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  • Writer's pictureMike Ayers

Caution and Help for the Hyperdriven Leader

According to Wookieepedia (the Star Wars Wiki of course), hyperdrive is a type of propulsion system that allows a starship to enter light-speed and travel amazing distances at an astounding rate. Hans Solo’s famous Millennium Falcon had hyperdrive capabilities.

Just like light-speed cruisers, there are leaders that propel their organizations forward at breakneck rates helping them achieve impressive results. Though often referred to as “visionary leaders," I would suggest a closer look.

Here’s what I mean: There are leaders who possess a unique ability to see a more ideal future and communicate it in ways that move people to reach it. This is the blessing of visionary leadership and it is essential for effective organizations. But the designation “visionary leader” has also been used as a self-label by some seeking to justify their own excessive and compulsive drives. In the leader’s mind, the euphemism excuses their obsession with results and the tunnel-vision that accompanies their success. These leaders are often hard on staff, demanding of people, and are constantly charging a hill. When this occurs, the visionary leader creates vision-weary people. In extreme cases (and also in the name of vision), they may be authoritarian, autonomous, and even downright mean.

Why would otherwise great leaders act in such destructive ways?

The first answer is that they can. By the sheer force of their personality, hyperdriven leaders have often maneuvered themselves into positions where they answer to few, and if they have achieved a measure of “success”, people allow them to get away with it. Here, immediate results are favored over long-term success. Why is it that a leader’s persona and achievements intimidate others to the point of excusing that leader from the ordinary rules of civility in the treatment of people?

Beyond their lack of accountability, there are three underlying issues at the heart of a hyperdriven leader:

1. The inability to be content

Something within them is insatiable. Thus, they constantly focus on what they lack, rather than on what they have. They are incessantly consumed with the need for that which can never be ultimately attained— more.

The tragedy is that in focusing on getting more, they miss seeing the blessings of what they currently have. Possessing a future-focus in leadership is essential, but in the extreme, hyperdriven leaders are fad-driven, have a propensity for burning people out and often experience a revolving door of leaders and staff.

2. They do not know the meaning of "no" or "not yet"

Hyperdriven leaders have never learned the rhythm of lasting leadership. They don’t understand that people need starting points, clear destinations, and rest stops. For them, leading means always saying “yes” and “go”. They overlook the many examples when wisdom directed a leader to go smaller, do less, save and not spend, retreat and not risk, and celebrate... and these key decisions resulted in more long-term success.

Smart leaders know that stopping and resting can actually be a way of advancing forward. Hyperdriven leaders don’t allow their leadership to breathe. Instead, they and their people seem always out of breath and tend to linger in survival mode.

3. They must have it their way

Hyperdriven leaders deeply crave control, but the sense of superiority that accompanies such control is often fueled by insecurity. That’s because these leaders are far more likely to behave poorly when they aren’t getting exactly what they want. In other spheres of life, we would call this immaturity. In a deeper sense, this authoritarian behavior may be rooted in the need to prove oneself as competent and successful, to meet an inner craving for significance in the world, or validate their power over others.

So, if you have hyperdrive tendencies surfacing within you, here are a few suggestions:

1. Develop the discipline of noticing

A smart, visionary leader not only possesses a mindset for the future, but also a present-tense orientation. They notice when others work effectively, serve selflessly and sacrifice. That’s because when people do— i.e., when they affirm your organization’s culture in their words and behaviors— they lend to the achievement of the leader’s vision. This only helps the vision be achieved—which of course is the goal. Good leaders therefore don’t take people and what they do for granted.

2. Learn to be grateful for imperfect gifts

Perfectionism is a common trait of hyperdriven personalities. However, nothing in life is perfect—people are not, circumstances are not, and the fulfillment of vision is not. If things must look perfectly and people must act perfectly in order for me to be grateful, then I never will be.

Ingratitude, therefore, is not only the active expression of feelings of frustration and words of discontent. It is also the withholding of thankfulness for life’s blessings. Ingratitude is a moral blindness. It is the inability to see the good in all of life, to experience the peace that comes from knowing that no one can have (or should have) complete control, and to behold the beauty of people doing work together.

3. Love the people you lead

Most hyperdriven leaders spend endless hours and energy on building and running their organizations and far less on anything else—including taking care of their soul, their family, and the people who work for them. To a large extent, people are simply a means to an end. Take a moment and consider the people you lead. Ask yourself: what must it be like to walk in their shoes? To live their lives? To be in their family? To deal with the stresses of their jobs and the challenges they face? Empathy will almost surely result… and empathy is the precursor to compassion. Then, people are seen as people not objects.

Hyperdriven leaders must learn to assimilate into their character the traits of noticing, thankfulness, and love. General ingratitude, frustration, needs for micro-control, and a lack of compassion should be warning signs that something far worse than one’s leadership is awry. The issues are likely personal and deep. Those, more than anything regarding work, need to be addressed.


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