Stop Being a Floating Leader

I recently talked with a cofounder CTO I have not spoken to in about two years. “What have you been up to?” I asked. Turns out—not much. Same team size, similar challenges, no advancement in the bigger picture challenges he had reached out to me years before. I cringed, imagining how I would have felt if I had been in such a team.

On top of all that, Covid19 has virtually decimated their market and will probably change it considerably for years to come. “So, what’s the new strategy, then?” “Why do we need a new strategy?”

Vision and Purpose in Leadership

When I start coaching a new client, I often begin with a self-assessment of eight different factors to help us decide on the things we should be focusing on. Two of those factors are Vision and Purpose:

Vision: Having enough context and understanding of the business and its goals to comprehend the strategy entirely and help compile it.

Instilling Purpose: As a leader, it’s not enough to understand the long-term needs. You also need the ability to relay these needs to your team, so they also possess this knowledge and are then able to work in an autonomous manner as well. This is the key to effective empowerment.

Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away

Consider the following diagram:

The CTO that I described earlier is lacking both in Vision and in being able to instill Purpose. That’s what I call the Floating Leader. They’re not steering the boat in any specific direction. Instead, they are cruising along wherever tides take them. And, as captains, their entire team is tagging along with them.

Such anemic leadership is never what we set out to be doing. Instead, it happens when we did not keep our vigil and ensured that we remain at the top of our game. And so the slow decline takes place.

Untreated, I might even go as far as to say this is a fireable offense. It’s a great disservice to your team under you and to the entire business that relies on you. More than anything else, though, it is a disservice to yourself. Life is too short to be leading a team that way. Move upstream, revisit your strategy, and get help if you need it.

Rate Yourself

For each of these questions, rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 (10 being best). Average the result per trait to place yourself on the chart above.


  1. At what level do you fully grasp the company’s long term strategy and goals?
  2. How involved were you in the compilation of said strategy and goals?
  3. How deeply do you understand the priorities of the other leaders and departments in the company (your Executive Product Mastery)?

Instilling Purpose

  1. When relaying plans and projects to your team, how much do you focus on communicating the “commander’s intent” and reasoning as opposed to the technicalities and the “how’s”?
  2. How well will the team be able to manage without your availability for a week or so?
  3. How deep of an understanding does your organization have about the needs of your customers/clients and your market as a whole?