What’s Your Leadership Wake?

The term wake is a boating term that refers “to the trail of disturbed water that is left as a boat moves in the water.” It can be seen from some distance away, and the size of the wake is typically determined by the speed and the size of the boat. Whatever the magnitude of the wake, the one thing that is certain is that a wake is created. A boat simply cannot move without disturbing the water around it. It’s a physical impossibility.

What Is A Leadership Wake? 

In much the same way as a boat leaves a trail behind it, so does a leader. This is all due to the law of cause and effect. Whenever a leader, or anyone else for that matter, enters into a relationship with someone else, they leave an impact (a wake). Whether this is positive or negative typically depends on the interaction, and also the self-awareness of the leader—and most leaders I know have no recognition of the type of wake they create.

Kip Tindell, cofounder, chairman, and former CEO for The Container Store, notes that:

“Someone who’s very mindful of their wake and has the mature and sobering understanding of how powerful [his or her] wake is . . . the kind of person we want to be connected to.”

The way you show up impacts how others experience you, and therefore the quality of the interaction. If you create a positive wake then it helps team members feel a sense of belonging. Consequently, a leader's effectiveness, long-term and short-term, is directly linked to the quality of the relationships they have with their team and colleagues.

Leaders that use their position and the company hierarchy to create a big wake often create inefficient relationships that alienate team members; this, in turn, undermines the long-term viability of a company.

Great leaders fully appreciate that when they create a positive wake within the business team members feel more engaged and committed to the company. This, in turn, makes the team members feel happier as they recognize they are valued for their contribution.

The Wake of Non-Verbal Communication

Many people I work with are really surprised by the power of their wake, and are unaware of the fact that all the time they are influencing people around them. Your wake is part of the non-verbal communication that we all emit. Our non-verbal communication is the most powerful form of communication we have—and, according to some research, impacts over 55% of our interactions.

I’m sure you’ve all experienced a time when someone has said they are well, but every other visible sign is that they are not. Maybe they are shivering, coughing, hunched up. These are all non-verbal signs that the person is far from well.

Our energy is also part of the suite of non-verbal communication tools that we typically unconsciously use. Our energy creates a wake simply when we enter a room, and this too can create a positive or negative impact with others. If our energy is too large, we can become intimidating to others; conversely, if our energy is contained, we might appear as rather timid and shy. And whilst most of your team members won’t candidly let you know how they experience your wake, my horses have absolute clarity about this. If your wake is too big and rough they simply will not engage and connect with you; and although your team members might, rest assured they won’t be enjoying the interaction and won’t feel connected to you and the business.

Remember: as a leader, you are like the first domino in the pack. Your leadership wake creates a chain reaction that is felt throughout your team.

What wake are you creating—and are you doing this intentionally?

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