The Power of Drawing a Leadership Line in the Sand

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Have you drawn a leadership line in the sand recently?

A line in the sand where your core values intersect with real life situations.

Several years ago I was called in to help turn around a non-profit organization which had been in a financial tailspin.

About three months into this journey the Chief Financial Officer came into my office and delivered some very bad news. “Scott, it looks as though we’re not going to make it.”

He explained that there was not enough money on hand to meet the next payroll. At the point where an organization misses payroll, you are basically finished.

I asked him for options.

“Well,” he began, “We are sitting on a trust fund containing more than enough money. To be clear, it’s not our money, but we do have access to it. If we were convinced that things would turn around, and that we’d be able to replace those funds later, we could dip into that account and cover our shortfall.”

I’m not going to lie to you. This was tempting.

But then, almost in unison, the C.F.O. and I said, “Wait, what are we doing? This goes against everything you and I believe in. No, we won’t violate our principles and use funds that are not really ours.”

This encounter had reminded us of three vital “line in the sand” leadership truths.

1.  A line in the sand must be drawn before you need it.

When you’re in a moral dilemma it’s too late to start figuring out your principles.

2.  A line in the sand must be shared.

Being able to say, “I won’t cross that line” is good. But it’s nothing like the power of an entire team saying, “WE won’t cross that line.”

3.  A line in the sand must be absolute.

A line in the sand must be peppered with words like “always” (“We will always…”) and “never” (“We will never…”). Not “sometimes” or “usually”

By the way, the following week an unexpected donation arrived which covered our shortfall, and the turnaround went on to be a success.

But maybe more important than salvaging the organization was the satisfaction of maintaining our own integrity.

Do you have clear core values? Good. Now, put them to work in real-life situations.

It starts by drawing a line in the sand.

When have you needed to draw a line in the sand?




the author

Scott Cochrane

Vice President- International, Global Leadership Network. Love Jesus, Nora, Adam & Robin, Amy, Dave, Willow & Olive and John, Fiona & Will. Lifelong learner.


  1. Great story Mr. Cochrane, I specially agree with the “sharing” of the line. It´s great that you know what to expect from your team, what your team can expect from you, and what you can expect from yourself because we all share the same principles.

  2. You nailed it Dayton. When a team is simply a collection of individuals, each driven by their own distinct set of disconnected values, you don’t really have a team at all. It’s only when there is a unifying sense of deeply embedded corporate values in place does a true team emerge.

  3. I really did enjoy, as usual, most of your article! In my previous post, I focused on a narrow crmticisi. I also appreciate the many thoughtful comments that usually appear in response to your articles.

  4. Hihi, hva skal det bety? Litt inspirasjonstørke om dagen kanskje eller det kjipe lyset (eller mangelen på det) som plager deg?Det går nok snart over :)Og jeg gleder meg til å se når nystua står klar!Du får nyte 'bloggeferien' og kose deg med et bra spill enn så lenge ;)Klem og finfin søndagskveld til deg,Signe

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