What is the wake of your leadership?

What is the wake of your leadership?

What is the wake of your leadership?


A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel with my daughter to visit two colleges, both of which were recruiting her to play basketball. At each school we had similar experiences – tours with coaches, meals and activities with the team and long conversations with various staff members.

While the days contained similar activities, our “sense” of each school was fundamentally different.

Collaborative. High-performing. Trusting. Supportive. Accessible.

Constrained. Controlled. Disciplined. Demanding.

I realized after each visit that the words we’d use to describe our overall sense of the school and team also reflected the sense we had of the head coach, even though our time with that coach was relatively limited.

In my mind, we were experiencing the wake of each coach’s leadership style.

The 360-assessment tool I use with leaders, the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP), measures the “leadership wake” left by the person being assessed.   This tool helps my clients understand how others have experienced their leadership. It provides a rare opportunity to have multiple mirrors held up for my client to see what it is like for their direct reports to be “caught” in their wake.

Have you ever wondered about your “wake” as a business owner?

Larry Senn, author of Winning Teams, Winning Cultures, said “Culture is the shadow of the leader.” How aware are you of the shadow you cast? How much focus do you put on naming and living the values you want for your business?  How often are you seeking out feedback that would help you understand your impact on the business culture?

In working with business owners, I see the ways talented, smart people accidentally create dysfunctional teams and cultures:

  • Valuing flexibility at the expense of accountability
  • Controlling details at the expense of empowering staff
  • Using a win/lose lens that promotes distrust and competition among team members

The good news is that taking responsibility for your own impact is much easier than trying to make other people change their behaviors.  Here are some hints to get you started:

Get intentional – Write words the capture the experience you WANT for your employees and customers.  Then write the ways that you are creating an environment that supports that experience.

Ask for feedback – Give employees and customers opportunities to tell you their “sense” of your business – especially if they are unhappy.

Seek out a strong mirror – You may have a peer or mentor who can help you see your “wake” more accurately than you can see it for yourself.  Invite them to do that.

Read books on leadership – One of my favorites is by Patrick Lencioni:  The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. My clients also find The Five Dysfunctions of a Team incredibly useful.

Get out of your own wake (way?) – One of my favorite insights that came out of my LCP certification was that we know how to grow the skills and capacities are essential for good leadership.  If you are spinning your wheels rather than moving a big initiative or transition forward, you may be stuck in your own wake.  Reach out to me.  Together we can change the direction and speed of the boat, and you can start having fun again!