by Michael Holland    

There he sits, the 52-year-old, slightly graying VP. He’s in the same seat he sits in every week at the meeting.  He’s present, but he’s not really here.  He talks, but no one actually listens to what he’s saying.  He’s productive and his team seems to get the minimal work completed, but they aren’t a thriving team.  What’s happened to him, you wonder?

He’s in the slow fade season of leadership.

Leaders don’t come to work thinking “yes, today I’m going to let my leadership and authority slip just a bit and continue this slow fade of my impact.”  They come to work each day fighting the battles of politics, striving to meet the goals rolled down from “the boss”, exerting just enough energy towards employees to keep them feeling that they are engaged, and creating an appearance of productivity by attending 8 meetings and driving through 120 emails.

The irony is that the slow fade of leader comes from the toll of those exact battles, and from years of pulling energy from the deep crevices of their heart and soul.  Each day, a little more is given up to “the man”, resulting in something less being left over in the leader.  There’s not a watershed moment when everything shifts from impactful to not impactful.  Sure, your recent performance review says something happened this year in your behaviors, but in reality, those behaviors were always there.

Strong, capable, non-fading leaders have the courage to lead forward.  This courage comes from their capability to strive for the prime directive they’ve set forth as the goal for themselves, their team, and their company (which may or may not align with that of the boss); to ignore all the work that they could accomplish, focusing narrowly on those two or three talents which they alone bring to the table for their team or company.  A leader who can balance his talents with those of his team will create an enabling environment for success.  And low and behold, he will not be entrenched “in” the battles but will instead lead his team through them… and keep himself growing as well.

Leaders don’t crumble in a day, but each day can be the start of their crumbling.  You need to embrace the struggle and to decide today what two or three things only you can do for your team or company. Then focus intently on those gifts.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Take a moment to think: have you ever felt like you’ve stopped growing as a leader? Try to think of a specific example.
  • What are some things you can do now to prevent yourself from  falling from a leader with authority to an ineffective leader?
  • Do you know any leaders who are in the slow fade of leadership? How can you enable them to stop sinking?