Author: Jessie Temelkov

“You can tell a lot about a ship as you look at its wake.” “It is such a beautiful ever-changing creation as the ship continues on its path.” In his book Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud refers to leaders leaving a “wake” behind them in both their results and their relationships.

Dr Cloud continues, “With people, the same thing is true. There are always two sides to the wake that a leader or someone else leaves when moving through our lives or the lives of an organization.”

We can’t control when someone else’s wake intersects with ours causing uninvited waves, but we do have a say in how we respond. The steering wheel of leadership in our hands can become an instrument for calm by the way it is handled, or an instrument for thrill (the unwelcome kind). How you manage it will likely determine whether those in your wake will enjoy their experience, or find a new craft to follow.

A few navigation principles:

Avoid choppy waters whenever you can

When I was young, my dad intentionally only took us skiing on weekdays. He knew that the skiing on busy Saturdays would be choppy and unsafe. He didn’t want to risk an accident or injury and just stayed away. This is how he kept his wake in a pleasant condition for me and all of my friends that we took along.As leaders we are wise to follow such a preemptive pattern. However, sometimes a lot of other “boats” will unexpectedly show up on a Monday, and we will need to be extra diligent to avoid the turbulence and interference of their wake. If you know there will be “rough waters” conditions, consider whether to consciously ride into them.

When turbulent waters are unavoidable, use wisdom practices to steady your wake

A skipper will keep his eye out for all crafts in his territory. He will plan his next move should another craft infringe on his space. This will prevent sudden jerks and reactions. It will prevent danger to those who have joined him on the ride.It is inevitable that someone will cross into your space uninvited. Remember your response to this has implications for everyone in your wake, so turn consciously and perhaps conservatively regarding them. Plan your next move considering its implications for those behind you. Instead of bracing for impact, give a little.

The shape of your wake can become like an artform

As much as I love the thrill of being behind a boat skiing, I get perhaps equal pleasure from watching how the boat moves through and interacts with the water with grace and skill. As a leader, the way you address bumps, waves, and winds can be beautiful. It can be pleasing and motivating for others as they watch you navigate the waters of life and leadership. Keep this in mind skipper. There is so much potential for others to feel stretched and inspired when touched by your spray. Before you know it you might see folks almost “dancing on the water” behind your boat, maybe getting so comfortable and brave that they’ll drop a ski and keep going on just one!  Wouldn’t we want the people in our wake to feel the freedom to take on new challenges? 

“We leave the effects of our interactions with people behind in their hearts, minds, and souls.” - Dr. H. Cloud

Dr. Henry Cloud poses some great questions for examining our wake. I invite you to use them to help you consider how people experience your wake: 

“Are there a lot of people out there water-skiing on the wake, smiling, having a good time for our having moved through their lives?”

“Or are they out there bobbing for air, bleeding, and left wounded for shark bait?”

“Are they more trusting after having worked with us?”  “Are they more fulfilled as people?”

“Have they grown as a result of having been associated with you?” “Were they stretched and inspired to be more than they were before working with or for you?”

“Or are they wounded? Less trusting? Feeling put down, cheated, or manipulated?” “Do they feel inferior, like a loser, or ashamed because of how you interacted with them?”

This is Dr Cloud’s bottom line question: “Would they want to do it again?”

Them getting back up smiling on skis behind your boat actually translates to them signing up to give their all in another hefty project under your lead. 

  1. Will they value how their skill grew as you and they navigated the bumps on that last ride? 

  2. Will they be inspired to give it another go, or will they bail and be on the lookout for another ship? 


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