Merge's Blog

Your leadership focus should be at two different levels

The best way I can think of to explain how there are two different levels of leadership focus is to use the metaphor of tornadoes versus termites.

Two levels of leadership focusA tornado can level a house.  You know what else can?  Termites.  Over time, termites, left unchecked, can bring a 2,500 square foot house down to a pile of brittle lumber.  A tornado gets attention because it can destroy a house in a matter of mere minutes.  But termites, eating away at the skeleton of a home over a period of six months to two years, tend not to get the same degree of attention, simply because their damage happens slowly.  But let’s be very clear on one thing – whether it’s a tornado or termites, the eventual result is exactly the same – a house that is completely destroyed.

Tornadoes get attention

As a leader, catastrophes in your workplace get your attention.  Whether it’s a virus that shuts down your computer network, a rail accident that impacts deliveries of your product, a flawed recommendation your firm made to an important client, or a significant accounting error that is discovered only after the financial cycle has closed, such situations bring your crisis management skills to the forefront.  Your expertise and experience instantly come into play as you gather information, assess the situation and immediately take corrective action to both mitigate the damage and move towards resolution.  Crisis situations such as these are equivalent to tornados.  They cause widespread destruction, and because their impact is so visible and concentrated, time and resources are assigned without delay to not only address and correct the aftermath, but to also investigate the root causes and implement safeguards against future occurrences.

But termites create just as disastrous an outcome

Sure, the catastrophes in your workplace are worthy of your attention.  They should be.  But do you also have termites?  And perhaps more importantly, are you giving them the focused effort they also deserve?  Is there a small kernel of discontent or negativity in your department that left unchecked could swell into a widespread decrease in employee morale?  Or is there a general lack of pride in workmanship that creeps insidiously towards a noticeable decline in product or service quality?  What are you doing to address the termite issue in your department or organization?

There’s a compelling lesson here for leaders.  Whether is tornados or termites, the ultimate outcome is exactly the same – a department or organization that doesn’t deliver on its service or product promise to its clients.

So are you giving your termites as much attention as you are giving your tornados?  I would love to hear your reactions and answers to this question.  Please add your comments below.


  • Great analogy; tornados and termites do result in the same outcome. Tornados are outside of the control of leaders; termites are all about culture and leadership. Leaders understand the importance of the examples that they set for others, the impact that their behaviours make on their teams, and that having courage to take on tough issues quickly are important to stamping out the termites.

  • Ooh, love that you specify that termites are under the control of leaders but tornados aren’t. It’s puts a whole different (and more weighty) emphasis on the importance of taking action on termites! Thanks Jim!


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