How To Overcome Leadership Vertigo To Drive Success

In the English language, there are certain words that when we hear them illicit a very strong, powerful image.  One of these words is vertigo, which when we hear it brings to mind that famous scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Vertigo” where the lead character looks down a stairwell and sees the floor stretching away from him.

Of course, as with most Hollywood films, Hitchcock’s classic doesn’t reflect the true reality of what it’s like to experience vertigo.  Indeed, vertigo as perceptual phenomenon is not quite as obvious as this movie might like us to believe.

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Essentially, vertigo refers to this form of dizziness that creates an illusion of motion.  In effect, what happens is our brains sends us these false signals telling us that we’re moving when in fact we’re not.

What is Leadership Vertigo?
Based on this new understanding, Leadership Vertigo refers to those false signals sent from our brain that tell us that things are going well when in fact they’re not.  In other words, it refers to that gap that often exists between how we view our leadership and how those around us experience our leadership.

As with vertigo, it’s not always easy to identify when we’re suffering from a bout of Leadership Vertigo – something we’re all susceptible to experience.  As such, we need to employ the four Leadership Principles I discuss in my first leadership book, “Leadership Vertigo”.

These four Leadership Principles are:

  1. Build Community
  2. Develop Competence
  3. Earn Credibility
  4. Cultivate Compassion


In my MILE webinar, “How To Overcome Leadership Vertigo”, I discuss two of these Leadership Principles, “Build Community” and “Cultivate Compassion”

Using a sense of community to overcome Leadership Vertigo
The first Leadership Principle, “Build Community”, is tied to one of the core psychological needs research has shown we all have – that of wanting to feel a sense of connection and belonging both to the people around us, as well as with the work we do.

Building a sense of community in your organization is important because it ensures that your efforts are not simply supporting your leadership, but they are supporting the collective efforts of your employees to be successful in their collective efforts.

Leaders in any organization can tap into this Leadership Principle “Build Community” to overcome and prevent bouts of Leadership Vertigo by employing the following three strategies:

1. Create opportunities for your employees to interact outside of formal roles
In order to create this sense of community, of being connected to a shared purpose or larger vision, it’s important to facilitate opportunities for employees to engage and interact with employees from different divisions and departments.
This will not only to help them understand the different perspectives and challenges others in the organization face, but it will help them to appreciate the common objectives shared by others in different areas of your organization.
2. Don’t lose sight of the journey your organization has taken so far
To help employees better understand the relevance of their work, it’s important that we make time to connect our current efforts with where we’ve been, what we’ve learned so far, and how this is shaping our understanding of what we need to do going forward.
As leaders, we need to remind our employees that as much as we’re defined by our successes, we are also a product of our failures.
3. Promote a sense of shared ownership in the organization’s vision

In order to build a sense of community in our organization, we need to tie it to something, to a vision or shared purpose that’s bigger than ourselves.  But it also has to be something that people feel a sense of shared ownership in; that they gain a sense of value and meaning from it for themselves as much as for those we serve.

How Cultivating Compassion can help us address bouts of Leadership Vertigo
There are two behaviours research has shown we’re all hard-wired to experience – demonstrating empathy to others and having an innate sense of curiosity about things and the world around us.

 By cultivating compassion in our leadership, we tap into these two innate behaviours so that we not only empathize with the realities our employees face, but we also have that sense of curiosity to better understand what it is we need to provide them to help them be successful in their collective efforts.

 And the way leaders can use this Leadership Principle “Cultivating Compassion” to address bouts of Leadership Vertigo is by employing the following 3 strategies:

 1. Learn to see your employees beyond the tasks/roles they play in your organization
In order to tap into our innate empathy and curiosity about the realities our employees face, we need to learn to see our employees beyond the roles they play in our organization.

Showing our employees that we care about what matters to them reinforces the efforts we’re making in building a sense of community as our employees now see themselves as valued members in our organization.

 2. Recognize what are the real strengths of your employees and build on those
The reality is that our strengths are not simply what we do well, but those things that strengthen us.  Those tasks or opportunities that tap into our internal drive to push ourselves to become stronger contributors in our organization.

 As leaders, by cultivating our compassion, we will be more prone to seek out what drives our employees, what would make them feel like they’re making a difference, and then providing our employees with opportunities to do such.

 3. Be open and honest about not having all the answers
When it comes to leadership, the tendency is for us to act as though we have all the answers.  However, if we are to ensure that we’re keeping the gap between how we view our leadership and how those under our care experience it as small as possible, we need to be open to the reality that we can’t have all the answers.

That we’re open to hearing the insights and experiences of our employees to help us ensure that we succeed in our collective efforts.

To avoid Leadership Vertigo – don’t forget to mind the gap:
Ultimately, our ability to overcome Leadership Vertigo stems from how much effort we expend to mind the gap that exists between how we view and understand our leadership, and the collective experiences of those under our care.

The fact is all of us – even the best leaders – will encounter bouts of Leadership Vertigo over the course of their tenure.  The only difference is what we’re willing to do to ensure we act as the kind of leader our employees and organization requires to succeed and thrive in the years ahead.

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