This is what happens if you have a leader who floats

The “missionary position” of leadership reflects the traditional organizational model.

Leaders responsible for vision and strategy are on the top of the pyramid; employees who execute the chosen strategy are scattered downward throughout the structure.

On paper the missionary position is viewed by traditionalist organizational design experts as being the most effective approach in terms of allocating and controlling resources to address the critical challenges facing the organization.

But in my experience what you see on paper sometimes is NOT be what you get in practice. In far too many circumstances the leader may be at the apex of the chart with lines radiating down from their position, but in practice no one below supports the leader; the leader literally “floats” on a cushion of air.

The floater leader is a problem to the overall organization. Their positive influence is minimal; their team’s performance is lacklustre and they consume rather than add value to the bottom line.

Anyone aspiring to have a rewarding and successful career should avoid the floater; they have a track record of destroying careers not enhancing them.

But the floater is recognizable; this is what they look like in action.

1. The only evidence of followers of the floater are the numbers of people shown on an organization chart. Talk to their employees. Some might SAY they are loyal to the leader’s vision but their actions speak otherwise. Because they don’t believe in the leader, they are at odds with the direction declared by the floater. In fact many times, employees improvise and do their own thing rather than follow the floater; this dysfunction negatively impacts performance and results.

2. They believe their teams function as they should even though their organization is a mirage. They are unable (or refuse) to see thinks the way they are. Floaters are mesmerized by their title in the hierarchy and believe it naturally attracts followers who want to support their goals and objectives. They truly function in a dreamworld and can’t see the reality of their situation.

3. They are given PERSONAL projects to do; teams within their organization are rarely assigned anything. The floater’s boss knows that the only way to maintain some semblance of productivity is to keep the floater personally busy. The organization knows that the leader is basically incompetent and therefore assigns the same conclusion to people in the floaters organization. Wrong, yes, but guilt by association is alive and at work when a floater is present.

4. They are close friends with their boss and have a relationship with them spanning many years. It’s well known they are a “protected species” as long as the boss continues in their position. This is well known throughout the organization. People know that the floater is beyond reproach and will exist as long as their protector is in play. This results in employees of the floater being resigned to accept the lack of leadership and seek opportunities elsewhere.

5. They have little currency in the organization; their input on strategic matters is rarely sought (and everyone is aware of it). To their executive peers, the floater adds no strategic value to the organization. At planning sessions, they are all but ignored in the rare moment they actually provide an opinion on where the organization should be going. They are tolerated in these session because their protector is there not because they have useful insights to offer.

6. They flit from one thing to another careful to avoid accountability. Trying to pin the floater down on any issue is like nailing jelly to the wall. They are consumed with busyness, believing that juggling many balls in the air and working late at night will prove their worth and that they add value in the organization. The truth of the matter is, however, they rarely achieve anything positive.

7. Employee engagement is missing in action. People in the floater’s organization spend their time separating themselves from their leader. They are fearful of being identified with the floater and therefore are reluctant to engage with their colleagues in any team activity. They are focussed more on preserving their personal brand and surviving in spite of their leader rather than on contributing to strategic goals.

8. They are never asked to be a mentor and help individuals advance their career. They are not seen as a leader who has the skills and experience or offer anything useful. In fact people disassociate themselves from the floater and don’t want to be perceived as their loyal subject.

If you’re a leader who exhibits any number of these characteristics you might want to examine whether you are actually a floater. Look down. If you see people running for cover and who are disengaged and unsupportive, you may be floating and you need to remedy your situation immediately.

If you’re an employee, look up. If you see your leader acting out these floater behaviours, dust off your résumé and prepare to leave quickly.

Roy Osing

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Roy Osing is a former president, executive vice-president and CMO with over 33 years of leadership experience. He is a content marketer, blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.
Roy Osing

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