Is Your Leadership Adrift?

Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.

~Omar N. Bradley

One of the dangers I have observed over my years in leadership is the leader who tends to stray off course. It’s an easy trap to fall victim to and I have been there myself a few times.

It tends to happen when we are not focused on our “one thing” and are chasing rabbits down trails where we have no business going. And because we are distracted and we didn’t say no when we should have, we drift off course. It’s usually never intentional, but we are adrift nonetheless and we need to correct our course.

Writing in his book, Simplify, author Bill Hybels poses an intriguing set of questions that started me thinking about this. He writes:

Are you in the right race? Or have you accidentally drifted into a race that is mostly in vain? Are your best efforts going toward a race that results in fleeting applause?  Or do you strive for material gain, which rusts, rots, and depreciates?Or for passing pleasures that don’t amount to a hill of beans in the eternal scheme of things?

Those are some powerful and thought provoking questions. Staying on course requires intentionality on your part as a leader. What does being adrift look like as a leader? How do you know? Let’s explore five possibilities.

Your leadership is adrift when you try to run someone else’s race

When the race ceases to be your own you are adrift. This happens when you not being true to yourself. Each of us has our own race and our own lane in which to run it. Quit trying to be the person in the lane next to you and be the person God created you to be. When you do this you will stop drifting.

Your leadership is adrift when you mistake all that glitters for your true north

As the quote above mentions, you must not set your course by the lights of the passing ships, but by the stars. Leaders who are adrift are frustrated because they didn’t keep their sights set on the star that is guiding them in their race. Forget about the other glimmering lights and get your focus back to where it belongs.

Your leadership is adrift when you fail to set proper boundaries

Leaders drift when they think they can be all things to all people and fail to set realistic, proper, and necessary boundaries. Without boundaries, there is no buffer in place to steer you back on course. You have to establish boundaries and stick by them. Otherwise, you will be drawn off course by every glittering light that comes along.

Your leadership is adrift when you chase applause and approval

This is one of the easiest traps to fall for as a leader. Afterall, who doesn’t enjoy the applause and approval that stokes our ego? But if this is your motivation for being a leader you are setting yourself up for disappointment and you will always be adrift. When you focus is on developing your character and integrity you will never have to worry about approval.

Your leadership is adrift when there is no accountability

Accountability is crucial to your success as a leader. It’s also what will keep you from drifting. When you have someone that has permission to speak truth into your life that person(s) can be an invaluable benefit to you as a leader. Do you have such a person? If not, let me encourage you to find one. The writer in Proverbs 22:15 said, “Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed.” (The Message).

As a leader, there is nothing more frustrating than being adrift. The good news? You don’t have to be when you know the warning signs.Stop drifting and get your focus back on what matters most.


Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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  1. I love this article for all the right reasons – but this is so universal, I hesitate to use the label ‘Leader’ when in reality this applies to every one who has their eyes on a goal but gets pulled in a million different directions. I’ve never been a man so I can’t speak for the male gender, but as a woman I find that it is difficult to draw boundaries around what we will allow to distract us and what is off limits. I’m still trying to figure that out. We all have distractions. The magnet force of what interests us can easily pull us off course. Getting back on track as quickly as possible can only be done with discipline, focus, and a lot of NO!

  2. Great illustration Doug. In further support, when a leader creates and sustains boundaries – it creates a ‘safe’ place for their people. When we know our workplace is a [safe] one, we can let our guard down a bit. In turn, stress levels are reduced and innovative juices flow.

    In turn, accountability isn’t such a scary word. It’s actually something to be proud of. The cyclical positivity reinforces credibility – and that is far easier to come by when integrity is part of what creates such a solid foundation~

    • Thanks for your suggestion that I read this article, Jennifer. I missed it. I have been greatly distracted lately and spend less and less time online in favor of doing things for people that have to be done in person.

  3. All great points. I feel leaders are adrift once they become less proactive and more reactionary. When this happens, it creates stress. This stress shuts down rational thought to the point that the leader is no longer a leader.

    • I agree with you Chris. Fighting fires constantly is an indication of broken processes.

    • I think it’s more than process. If I become a Lex Luthor villain, I can design an organizational structure and work environment that will destroy the effectiveness of any and all stellar leaders.

      If I’m even more sinister, I can create a cult following to establish a set of values and ideals that will destroy any positive aspects of the business culture.

      But, if I’m that Lex Luthor from that alternate evil dimension (the one where all the evil guys have the beards), where not me but Superman is the bad guy, I will be inspired to create a whole business of Nietzsche’s supermen.

    • Yikes, Chris. You’re right about that. Villains are on an entirely different plane than I was thinking about. I’m talking simple breakdown in communication and mistakes made due to broken processes or apathy or even intentional. It happens.