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How Great Leaders Keep People Moving Forward

Source | | Erika Andersen

A couple of months ago, I was sitting on a plane waiting to take off. Everything seemed good: people on board, doors closed and locked, OK weather, reassuring sentiments from the pilot.

Then it got quiet.  Our take-off time came and went.  No more positive statements from the intercom.  Finally, about 30 minutes after our planned take-off time, the pilot came on sounding apologetic and started telling us about a ground stop at our destination airport. Twenty minutes later he told us it was lifted, and started the engines. Fifteen minutes after that, the engines cut out, and he told us we’d somehow lost our flight status at our present airport.

And so on: although he seemed sincere, most of what he offered as rationale seemed obscure rather than clarifying. We finally took off four hours late, all of us tired, confused, impatient and irritated.

There’s a version of this phenomenon that happens with leaders, too. We often define leadership as “guiding and motivating people toward agreed-upon outcomes.” The best leaders do this not only efficiently, but with clarity and joy, and they and their teams achieve great things.  But some leaders are more like my ill-fated plane trip: everything seems OK, but things just don’t get off the ground. And when and if there’s forward movement, it’s often too little and too late.

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