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The leadership vacuum: Filling the void


Comments / 688 Views / Tuesday, 6 December 2016 00:01


By Rozaine Cooray 

Everywhere we look, from the political situations across the globe to the garbage issues in our own neighbourhoods, we are surrounded by reminders of a stark gap/vacuum between ‘ought’ and ‘actual’.  Even though we feel the void in leadership roles more strongly during times of crisis, it is definitely not only in times of crisis that we need a leader. Whether there is a crisis or not, within a group of people working towards a common goal (be it a family, school, organisation, or a country) there will always be certain needs that require attention. Some of these needs include maintaining the flow of work, providing daily guidance, the need for providing security, safety, trust, nurturance, growth, sense of achievement, innovation and inspiration. 

 The fact that these needs are not being identified or addressed by the existing leaders within the group, is what eventually leads to crisis situations. This is captured in the ‘The Broken Window’ theory – a theory in criminology that speaks of how little things, when left unfixed for a period of time, symbolise disorder, and lead to more and more chaos. For example, a few people litter on a street corner, and after a while all the passers-by start to assume that the street corner is a litter dump and will start throwing their garbage there as well.

Leadership vacuums are created due to this very same reason, when we don’t step up to the challenge in the right time, in the right place. In the absence of the right leadership, pseudo leaders will step in and once in, it is hard to get them out. The vacuum is exacerbated by factors that are personal, organisational, cultural, social and temporal. 

A number of personality factors can create, maintain and widen the gap. These include low emotional intelligence, personal insecurities, ego, the type of basic motivation and drive (achievement, power, affiliation), lack of interest and awareness, hunger for power overriding the hunger to create change.  

Organisational environments from highly competitive organisational cultures with clashes within management, lack of communication, to misalignment of values can compromise leadership quality. Cultural, social and temporal factors include the obligations to help out friends, definitions of success in terms of titles and outward materialism, fear cultures that are being encouraged from the school going days and diverse generational needs. 

The culture focused on mere results and not the process of achievement of these results – the short term focus in fixing problems, can deceive you to believe that everything can be rewired instantly. Well the bad news is, you can’t. Creating a high performing and engaged workforce that feels safe in the organisation, and feel that they contribute meaningfully for the long term vision takes time, investment, effort and much optimism.   

The leadership vacuum may not be obvious to some. Since in most organisations, there is a structure where people are seated in these leadership chairs, what we often get to see is the void created in terms of what doesn’t get done or what gets done in the wrong way. This shows the need for transparency and authentic and true leadership. 

Despite the vacuum that was discussed above, it is well to remember that there are in pockets of society, people working tirelessly to bring about transformation, almost like catalysts of change.  It is crucial that we empower those catalysts to do a better job, to promote the right people to the right places and to ensure mechanisms not to create a vacuum that allow the wrong people to get into the positions of power and do damage in the name of leadership. 

Catalysts are the ones with the potential and the skill but more importantly the ones whose purpose is to serve. Catalysts always find a solution and are driven by a greater conviction. They measure success in terms of impact, as they direct themselves and others with awareness, perseverance and most importantly an indomitable spirit. It is these catalysts who aspire to fill the void and in this ebb and flow of life they narrow the gap and fill in the vacuum whenever possible. They are the ones who place a great emphasis on whom to select, whom to exit, whom to grow and how to keep them engaged. They not only focus on performance, they focus on happiness. 

‘Leadership Vacuum’ – a half a day workshop is been scheduled for 9 December at OZO Colombo, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 noon. To learn more about the event please contact 0718746028, 0776214082, 011-2717367 or email on info@forte.lk. 


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