Are you a donut leader?

by Latha Vijaybaskar, author of Masterstrokes 

As a leader what are your biggest issues today? Take a paper and quickly jot down your most pressing concerns.

Do you see patterns in them? If you were to categorize your concerns will they fall into common buckets? The concern buckets may also become the pillar of success. Let us review the list you have.

The pillars of leadership that in numerous theories have explained share the basic common factors even if their order and interactions vary.

The first pillar of course is the Goal. Are you seeing concerns in goals not being met, a vision not shared, results not achieved? This is the pillar they come under. The problems manifest and come to light in this place. Their growth, revenues, profits, the increase to stakeholder value and new products in the marketplace to everything under the world economy comprises of the goal.

The second pillar is the Strategy – the process and how things work. All strategies and tactics used to achieve the goals come here. In these challenging and uncertain times, the right strategies can help create disruption. Therefore, a bulk of leadership concerns also arise at this pillar.

The third pillar is the most complex and intangible dimension. This belongs to the People. The entire human element of an Organization comes here - the way people feel, behave, work, the culture.

Now the question is while you look at the problems, do your decisions offer piecemeal solutions at the pillar level?

Change that perspective to see the pillars as a single entity. The Goal depends on Strategy and People build them. In leadership, there is a fourth element which we don’t consider. When it comes to the solutions you want the goal, people and process to improve. But there is a huge hole here because you forgot YOU - the leader.

Do you ask yourself, what can I do to ensure my people work together to build strategies that will deliver the goals?

‘The Self’ is often the neglected Cinderella among the more flamboyant cousins of culture and strategy. Paradoxical it may seem, but self - leadership precedes strategy and culture. While problems manifest in Goals, the search for their solutions should begin in Self.

Wholesome leadership means addressing all four areas in the required sequence.

Or else, you will be a donut leader.


A donut leader is one who does not realise the role he plays both in the problem and in the solution. He takes himself out of the picture by being blind to his role as part of the team, essentially creating a massive hole in the centre of this wholesome field of leadership. By digging a hole due to lack of self-awareness, he becomes a donut leader.


Next time you write your concerns, become aware of how you are part of the problem and therefore how can you move towards a solution.


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