When your boss is all voyage but no return

I walked to a local promontory last weekend and looked back from where I had started. The view, of course, impressed as panoramic, impressive even.

Then I realized it was about 2.5 miles from where I had started. Some of the things I’d been concerned about when I left, like trying to get ahead in soft sand, or worrying about getting soggy sneakers because I risked getting stuck between a rising tide and a horrific sea wall, were literally distant events. My all-encompassing gaze did not capture those moments, nor did the distant blips trigger their memory.

My travels had given me a new perspective, but not necessarily a better perspective. I had lost as much as I had won. This is the problem with vision; the more you can record at once, the more you lose the details. The further back you go, the more things lose their color and texture.

Illustration: Dionne GainCredit:

My Sunday outing was a tale of journey and return. I appreciated the different vistas, but eventually I returned home and reconnected with the detailed perspective of my daily life and immediate community.

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For too many leaders, their story is a journey to a point of no return. They have an obsession with the “vision” thing. Worse, they promote vision statements that force a cabal of senior leaders in cahoots with marketing advisors on their innocent staff. This baloney may seem to capture the view from the promontory, but is often pointless to their staff faced with rising tides with nowhere to go.


I once worked for a boss who became so disconnected from reality and became increasingly rude and unreasonable that the entire company conspired to keep him on the road, incessantly traveling to conferences and reducing the amount of time he spent in an office minimum limited. While this meant some immediate reprieve for his hapless employees, he was so full of “big ideas” and “visions” that it came as a shock when he was finally told the company was losing money. and was weeks away from closing.

Leadership is messy and entangled. It can rarely be effective or long lasting if performed remotely, under a table, or in a bunker. But how often do you hear terms like surveillance, vision, looking over the horizon, the top of the tree, in the wheelhouse, and countless other metaphors applied to and by leaders.

Details are important. From a distance, everything fades to gray, and local features become a blur. The workforce, grassroots, competitors, threats and opportunities can all but disappear, and instead the details are replaced by ideology, bias and guesswork. This may be all it takes if all goes well. But when the tide runs out, those on the ground can see the damage left in its wake, and that could become a wake-up call for distant leaders.


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