How to Get Back at the Helm: A Leadership Turnaround Story


*Disclaimer: Names and important details in this story about how to be a great leader have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. All the characters are fictional, but it is nevertheless a true story about a struggling leader who triumphs over the dark forces of indifference and boredom by learning how to turn his ship around and regain his leadership mojo!


Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, a business strategy consultant named Ike Black got a call from the owner of a business. Let’s call him Bob. Bob had devoted his life to building his business. But in the last 5 to 10 years, it had grown beyond his capacity to manage it.

He was no longer in love with his business. Forget what you’ve heard about mo’ money mo’ problems – Bob’s business was facing more problems and making less money and he was fed up.

He wasn’t the leader the business needed. And the business was suffering terribly as a result.

Ike started working with Bob to dive into the challenges of the business. They started tackling accountability issues and creating some basic disciplines inside the business. This included working with the executive team to step up and be leaders instead of running to Bob with every single problem.

But Bob was totally checked out. During his weekly accountability meeting with the leadership team, he’d just sit there and say nothing. Sometimes he was late. In the absence of leadership, it was hard to steer the ship.

They did their first planning session and came up with a relatively bland plan to do more stuff. Although the session itself was not action-packed, the team was excited about having a session. At the end of the quarter, the results were okay. They accomplished some rocks and failed to accomplish others. The progress was slow.

When you don’t have a leader with a vision, it’s hard to take a step forward in a journey. Without someone at the helm to make the tough decisions, change is almost impossible. 

You can’t have a great business without a great leader at the top.

Unfortunately, Bob was burnt out and had no interest in being at the helm. A couple more quarters went by and Ike sat down to have a heart-to-heart with Bob. 

“Your leadership team is the least accountable team I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “By this point, they should have made a significant amount of progress and been able to crush a good portion of their rocks. But they haven’t.” 

Bob looked surprised. “Why do you think that is?” he asked.

Ike told him (with all the compassion and professionalism you would of course expect from a seasoned business coach) that the biggest problem wasn’t his team. It was him. Bob gazed down at his pasta and you could see the wheels turning in his head. 

A small fire was lit in his gut after hearing Ike’s diagnosis. You see, like most of us, Bob doesn’t like to lose. In the conversation that followed, Ike asked Bob a very important question. 

“If we forgot about everything you SHOULD do and thought about what you really WANT to do, what would it be?”

Bob immediately had an answer: “I’d shut down or sell this part of the business and focus on these other areas because it was way more fun  and profitable when we were more focused.”

Ike asked what needed to be done to make that happen. Again, Bob had an immediate answer.

“That sounds pretty cool,” Ike responded. “Who do you need to involve to make that happen?”

Bob rattled off exactly who needed to do what to make it a reality.  

After this conversation, Ike did nothing. Three weeks later he got a phone call from Bob. He had decided to sell off a division of the business and was delighted to discover that the potential buyer was offering more money than expected. He was ready to create the plan to make that happen.

Bob was excited again. The spark he thought was gone wasn’t extinguished after all – it had just shrunk so much that it wasn’t creating light or heat. With this change, the weight came off his shoulders and the flame was fanned enough to make it bright again. He was on the path to loving his business again.

At the next planning session, Bob was far more engaged.  While he couldn’t tell the team about the big changes he was working on, he did share some relevant parts of his vision.  

He asked the hard questions.  He got frustrated by the lack of accountability.  He pushed his team to do more.  

After the planning session, Ike and Bob had some conversations about how he could step up and be a better leader. Bob learned how to use a more effective positive approach of using leading questions to help his team think. 

At the next meeting, he did just that and succeeded in engaging his team. Interestingly, accountability increased across the board. 

Bob went from not being present to being a leader who was very clearly manning the rudder of the ship. He was encouraging, yet hard and challenging in all the right ways. Nobody wanted to let him down. This led to their rock completion rate going from mediocre to pretty darn good. Profitability started to increase. All other key metrics started improving. And Bob was having a lot more fun.

Leadership and passion are required to build a great business. Getting burnt out is natural and happens to the best of us. You can recover. Sometimes the key to how to be a great leader is forgetting what you should do and focusing on what you really want to do and who you need to make that happen.

If you’re a leader who’s feeling like your spark is nearly extinguished and you’d like to get it burning brighter, ask yourself those questions. And if you need some help of the type that Ike provided Bob, please contact us to learn how to get your mojo back and go from checked-out to excited-to-lead!

Mike Knapp


Mike has been helping businesses achieve their goals for more than 20 years. He believes there is a better way for business owners and leaders to build their businesses and achieve their big goals. As a Gravitas Impact Premium coach, he leverages the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ to simplify the art of strategy and discipline of execution.

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