Gut Check: Are You In A Leadership Funk?

April 4, 2014 Vince Molinaro

At the TED2014 conference in Vancouver, rock star Sting related a story about how he reached a point where he could not write any more music. It was something the 62-year-old musician had never encountered before, and he wasn’t entirely sure what to do.

Sting would eventually focus his creative attention on his earliest days growing up in Newcastle, and his struggle to escape a life working in the shipyards. That became the spark that freed him from writer’s block in a rather spectacular way.

“I’ve described it as a kind of projectile vomiting; a torrent of ideas, of characters and voices,” Sting told the Vancouver audience. “Verses, couplets, entire songs almost formed whole materialized in front of me as if they’d been bottled up inside of me for many years.”

The funk. Known otherwise as the doldrums, the dumps or that black cloud that follows us everywhere.

As we learned from his TED talk, Sting suffered from a funk. The same can be said of professional athletes, visual artists and novelists. Even the most creative forces in our universe can, from time to time, get bogged down.

Is the same true for leaders? Many people assume great leaders never get in a funk, even though that’s hardly realistic. The difference is that when an artist or athlete is in a funk, it’s very public. For leaders, a funk can be a very private battle. Like all insecurities, you may feel that if you admit your funk, it will erode your credibility.

That is hardly a productive perspective. After all, being a great leader is probably one of the hardest things to do consistently. It’s really hard work. So it makes sense that there will be times when in our lives when we run a bit off the rails, and descend into a funk.

What triggers a funk?

Maybe you’re overworked, or you’ve been roughed up by your boss. Maybe your business is going through a tough time. Whatever the cause, suddenly the thought of going into work isn’t exciting. It’s a source of dread. You feel it every morning in the pit of your stomach.

If you’re concerned that you may already be in a funk, here are some telltale signs:

1)      You’ve lost your passion.

Leaders need to set the tone, but you find yourself struggling to lead the way for your people. You are quiet or reserved in meetings. You rely on clichés, pretending to lead rather than actually leading.

2)      You look at everything through a negative lens.

You find yourself complaining more than you normally do. When you are in a funk it seems everything in your organization is broken. Others begin to notice you whining.

3)      You let things slide.

You become passive. Problems you typically would have tackled without hesitation are left to fester. Your standards are slipping in all areas.

As you can appreciate, being in a leadership funk for too long has a steep price. Once people around you notice, your credibility can be permanently impaired. You can bring your people down, which will affect their performance. In other words, hang on to a funk too long and everyone suffers.

Whatever it is, it’s important for all leaders to identify a funk when it appears, and figure out how to get out of it. Fast.

This week’s Gut Check is an important one for all leaders: Are you in leadership funk?

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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