Leaders Who Want to Walk on Water: Five Steps to Keep You From Drowning

Bill Crouch

Mike Carter


Every serious and aspiring leader we have known over the course of our careers is hoping, looking, and trying to find the best pathway to success. They are always aiming for it on a personal level, as well as for their organization. 


As we go through the career ladder, we encounter many situations where we need to make critical decisions. No doubt, research on management and leadership is vast! We can always turn to previous literature for insight. However, most of us do not have time to spend doing exhaustive reviews. 


We certainly encourage due diligence for every leader to know the latest in research and findings. Most of us rely on competent associates to help us stay abreast of the fast-moving changes we encounter on a daily basis. 


In our experience, we have found five steps that are fairly universal which can disrupt a leader’s agenda and even bring about career-ending events. We share these hoping they can help one avoid making one or more of these mistakes.


Know Who Is In Charge


We begin with knowing who is in charge! Make sure you understand the legal by-laws, contracts, covenants, handbooks, agreements, memoranda of understanding, that exist in your organization and how these apply to you and your role.  


Always, keep your contract up-to-date and reviewed by legal counsel. Watch out for verbal promises, since they may not be verified at later date, get changes to contracts in writing and signed by those responsible. Even leaders report to someone, so make sure you know who that is and that any ambiguity of work responsibility is clarified and understood by all interested parties. 


If your most important relationship is with the chair of a board, then be sure to keep that relationship fresh and informed. If you have an executive committee and/or a full board, make sure they know what is taking place in the organization and that you are fulfilling your role.  Knowing who is in charge is critical for your success and the mission of the organization to be accomplished. Making sure clear channels of communication are in place is essential. In today’s digital world short texts and emails can be misinterpreted, so be mindful that clear communication must be the rule and not the exception.

All Binding Documents are Up-to-Date, Legal, and Enacted


Second, make sure all written documents that pertain to you and the success of the organization are up to date, easily accessible to those who need access, and are reviewed carefully by your legal team. 


This needs to be a standard practice, one needs trusted legal counsel to assure that proper protocols are enacted and followed. Specifically, for the leader, is the job description and method of personnel assessment. These need to be known by heart and can be recited when necessary.  If not, some future event can bring these to bare and the consequences could be lethal for a leader.


Be Mindful of Boundaries, Both Personal and Organizational


Third, know the boundaries personally and corporately for your role as a leader.   This cannot be overstated. Many leaders move into “grey” areas where the boundaries are not clear. This can apply to personal and ethical behavior. 


We have all seen too many leaders leave their positions because personal boundaries were eclipsed by a lack of moral and ethical judgment. Watch to not put oneself in a position that can lead to a compromised situation or even the appearance of a compromised act. Many times, an experienced mentor can help to guide a less experienced leader.


Also, boundaries can become blurred in regard to the organization’s mission. We have sat in many meetings where the question needed to be asked, “Is this our mission?” 


Be mindful that many well-intended colleagues, at times, even board members can see interesting opportunities on the horizon. The question is:  “Do they fit our mission?” This is not to say that creative new enterprises should be avoided. In fact, we would suggest just the opposite, but they need to be under the canopy of the mission which you work! 


We suggest making sure that mission and purpose statements allow for creative insight to help guide and bring new life to an organization. Be careful to not be enthralled with too many new ideas and projects. Remember, boards can only handle so much change. This applies to staff working with you as well.



Planning And Assessment Protocols Are in Place and Used


Fourth, know the “macro-direction” of the strategic plan and be able to refer to it with great confidence and insight.  But, also, know the possible pitfalls to the various points in the plan.

Countless leaders have been embarrassed, even asked to leave a job, after they could not remember major initiatives, much less specifics about the various aspects of the plan. In sum, know the metrics of various plans and activities within your organization.


Self-Examine Your Work and Personal Routines

It’s always a good idea to take a step back and examine your daily routines. See if there are any areas where you think you are trying to save time by mixing your personal and professional life. In our digital age, it’s easy for people to track our online activity. So if you’re using organizational tools or resources, such as email and transportation, for both your work and personal life, make sure to keep them separate. 


As a leader, keep even simple daily practices clearly relating to the organization or to your personal life. Letting one co-mingle with the other can create a whole series of domino effects that can harm the leader as well as the organization. Multiple examples abound of misuse, so be mindful of what one might think to be an innocent use of organizational resources.


At TheBrightDot.com we work with leaders everyday and each member of our team has held leadership positions. We hope these five points can be useful reminders of how leaders secure success and maintain success. If we can ever be helpful at TheBrightDot.com feel free to contact us.

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