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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • October 1, 2023
  • minute read

Are you a visionary leader – or just an arsonist? 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

It’s a good time of the year to start something new.

Actually, any time of the year is a good time to start something new. When it comes to change, the time of the year isn’t usually at issue. The key issue is this – will this bright shiny new initiative you have in mind take your organization closer to its overall goal(s), or no?

The problem is that for many leaders, especially those with a dominant Visionary style, change is sometimes less a tool to achieve, and more an itch they have to scratch. For these leaders, the urge to start something new can become so overwhelming that the question of its efficacy can become secondary.

Combine that addiction to change with the authority to make it happen, and before you know it, a good leader has soured into an arsonist, wandering the corridors with a little book of matches, setting fires everywhere they can, and turning their formerly hard-working Operator, Processor and Synergist colleagues into wearied, stressed firefighters. 

"For many leaders, especially those with a dominant Visionary style, change is sometimes less a tool to achieve, and more an itch they have to scratch." - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success

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Sound familiar? Here’s how to know if you (or someone you know) has morphed from being a positive change agent to an arsonist liability:

1. You suffer from ‘shiny new ball’ syndrome. 

New, new, new. To the Visionary leader, everything has to be new. New insights, new ideas, new books, new gurus, new conferences, new diagrams, new mission statements, new products, new services, new…well, you get the idea.

2. You lose interest quickly. 

Last week’s shiny new ball lies in the corner of your office, deflated like a punctured bean bag, along with the scribbled notes, conference binders, half-read books and never-finished prototypes of previous, then-monumental ‘aha-s’.

3. You don’t like detail. 

Once a new idea pops into your head, it emerges, more or less fully-formed – for you, in any case.

In reality, nothing yet exists: the new product or service has to be designed and launched, the new process implemented, the new approach thought through. 

But for the arsonist leader, these are mere details to be worked out by others. The hard work – imagining the change – has, for them, been done.

4. Your people are exhausted. 

Your team are beaten down from the constant, ditch to ditch changes in focus caused by your addiction to change.

But they don’t tell you that (they know that to an arsonist leader, weariness with change is tantamount to disloyalty).

Instead you and they use phrases like ‘total commitment’, ‘engagement’ and ‘flexibility’.

And so everything seems OK on the surface, until it’s not – when, pushed beyond their ability to cope, a highly valued team member finally blows their stack, and leaves.

5. Your spend a lot of energy post-rationalizing.

Arsonist leaders don’t like to appear ineffective. Which, at first glance, is precisely the impression given by the large cluster of vapor trails they leave behind them, as one uncompleted change initiative follows another.

And so they need to spend a lot of time explaining past events in order to justify yet another leap into the dark.

Does this sound like you (or someone you know)?

If so, you’re probably only going to succeed in changing your destructive arsonist tendencies by turning a moment of self-realization into a period of directed behavior change.

Get a good coach or mentor and make yourself accountable to change. Otherwise, you’ll wake up some day with no legacy except the barely glimmering traces of a thousand great ideas – few of which actually produced much more than effort and exhaustion on the part of others.

You’re better than that. Stop being an arsonist, and get back to being the truly Visionary leader you once were.

What About You? Are you a Visionary Leader or just an Arsonist?

Let Me Know In The Comments Below!


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    1. Well, the last part of your question narrows down the options…:-) Blinkered Arsonists are almost impossible to effect behavioral change in – it usually comes down to deciding whether or not you can carve a space to enjoy your work despite their arsonist tendencies. Good luck! – Les

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