3 Warning Signs of “Watch Me Swim” Leadership

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Updated from August 3, 2012 post

Have you ever encountered a “watch me swim” leader?

This is the person who insists on letting you know about every accomplishment they’ve achieved, no matter how small or insignificant.

I came across one such leader recently, and while this person is actually quite good in their role, the constant craving for recognition made me want to avoid them, rather than engage with them.

Image via iStockPhoto.com

I first heard this apt description used by a good friend back in Canada. It’s a term that describes a leader who, like a child in the backyard swimming pool, is desperate for others to notice their accomplishments.

But in leadership it can quickly render you ineffective because:

  • It appears self-serving
  • It erodes trust in followers
  • It diminishes respect among other more secure leaders

Any leader is susceptible to “Watch Me Swim” leadership tendencies, but you can avoid it by watching out for these 3 warning signs:

1.   You embelish the significance of accomplishments
“Watch Me Swim” leaders are often quick to congratulate themselves. I heard of one leader who sent an email to his board celebrating the fact that “4th quarter results were up significantly over 3rd quarter results.”

But 4th quarter results were always up significantly over 3rd quarter results in that organization. It was merely part of an historical trend.


2.   You imply credit for achievements you had little to do with
I knew one senior pastor who announced to his board that, on his watch, “baptisms had increased 20%”. What he didn’t mention was that virtually all of those baptisms had come out of youth ministry, and he really had had no part of this whatsoever.

3.   You “spin” lack of results
“Watch Me Swim” leaders have a way of attributing poor results to any factor other than their own leadership.

Market conditions, a new competitor in town, a weakening economy, all of these can affect results. But to hear the “watch me swim” leader tell it, you’d think these were the only reasons for poor performance.

If you want to build your credibility as a leader, heed these warning signs, before “Watch Me Swim” turns into “Help- I’m Drowning”.

How do keep from sliding into watch me swim leadership?


the author

Scott Cochrane

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

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