Avoiding the Perils of ‘Watch Me Swim’ Leadership

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Have you ever encountered a “Watch Me Swim” leader?

This is the person who insists on letting you know about every accomplishment they’ve achieved, no matter how small or insignificant. The attitude is very similar to the child splashing around the swimming pool, desperate for the grown-ups to notice their aquatic abilities.

For children in the pool it’s cute. For leaders, it’s a problem that can undermine their effectiveness because:

  • It appears self-serving

  • It erodes trust in followers

  • It diminishes respect among other more secure leaders

As a leader, you can coach members of your team to avoid the “Watch Me Swim” trap, by first recognizing these early warning signs…

1. They embellish the significance of accomplishments

“Watch Me Swim” leaders are often quick to congratulate themselves. A leader I know was called on the mat for sending an email to his board celebrating the fact that “4th quarter results were up significantly over 3rd quarter results.”

But 4th quarter results were always up significantly over 3rd quarter results in that organization. It was merely part of an historical trend. And the board knew it.

Ouch.

2. They imply credit for achievements they had little to do with

I knew a senior pastor who announced to his board that, on his watch, “baptisms had increased 20%”. What he didn’t mention was that virtually all of those baptisms had come out of youth ministry, and he really had had no part of this whatsoever.

In effect he was caught saying, “Watch Me Swim”, and it hurt his credibility.

3. They “spin” lack of results

“Watch Me Swim” leaders have a way of attributing poor results to any factor other than their own leadership.

Market conditions, a new competitor in town, a weakening economy, all of these can affect results. But to hear the “Watch Me Swim” leader tell it, you’d think these were the only reasons for poor performance.

4. They make news out of the unnewsworthy

A leader I know once trumpeted the news in an annual report that, under his leadership, there had been an increase in staff punctuality. I suppose that’s good, but hardly worthy of mention in an annual report. He was really simply saying, “Watch Me Swim”.

Each of these symptoms reflects lack of security in leadership. If you spot these indicators on your team, help them by building into their sense of security.

Otherwise “Watch Me Swim” could soon turn into “Help- I’m Drowning”.

 

the author

Scott Cochrane

Vice President- International, Willow Creek Association. Love Jesus, Nora, Adam & Robin, Amy, Dave & Willow and John, Fiona & Will. Lifelong learner.

4 comments

  1. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did it ourselves’.” –Lao-Tzu, Chinese philosopher

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