Part One: Diagnosing and Fixing Broken Leaks

by Alli Polin on February 18, 2014

Personal Leadership Leaks can Lead to a Breakdown

The other day I ran out over lunch to take care of some errands and noticed that the car parked next to me was leaving a sizable puddle of oil.  I briefly wondered if the owner knew how much it was leaking, if they planned to head to a mechanic soon, or just wait for a breakdown.  I was curious enough that when I got home I googled what kinds of things could be leaking from a car and discovered it’s a lot more than just oil but also break fluid, windshield wiper fluid, anti-freeze etc.  The article was great at breaking down how to know what your car is leaking and what to do about it.

Then it hit me…

You and I are clearly not cars but we too can develop leaks that we don’t always notice until they’re extreme.  In this two-part series, I’ll cover six leaks that you should check for on a regular basis – don’t wait for a breakdown. 


I know that you think that you’re doing a great job at remaining calm, cool and collected despite boiling inside.  Truth is, your anger is leaking out.

Top three signs?

  1. The first thing people tend to say to you is “I’m so sorry to bother you…” or “I know you’re really busy and if this wasn’t really important…”
  2. You see someone noticeably shrink or flinch when you’re speaking.
  3. You consistently raise your voice to make your request, ummm, clearer.

What to do about it?

You may think that letting out some steam through bitching, moaning, blaming and yelling is working for you; it’s not.  Take a break to let go of stress and rediscover your inner peace.  A break could be as quick and easy as going out to get a coffee, taking a walk, hitting the gym or having a date night.  You may also need a bigger break to learn to breathe easy again – like a trip to Aruba.  Figure out what you need and do it.  You don’t want everyone in your life to tiptoe around you afraid they may set you off.


Logically, you know that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day but somehow it feels like yours is passing at a rate that is significantly faster than everyone else’s.

Top three signs?

  1. Your to-do list is forever growing and never getting any smaller.
  2. People count on you so you try to say “yes” to requests whenever possible.
  3. Double and triple booked time on your calendar is no longer an exception but now the rule.

What to do about it?

Here are three D’s to pull out and plug those time leaks:  1) Delegate 2) Defer 3) Deny

1) What would happen if you didn’t do everything yourself?  (Hint: It would get done)  Delegate to others not only to get things off of your plate but also give them a chance to expand their skills into new areas and grow personally and professionally.

2) Stop pressuring yourself to get it all – done – now.  Not everything is equally important or falls into the “matters most” category.  There are things that can simply be deferred and you (or someone else) will get to them later.  Along the way you may discover things never needed to be on the list in the first place.

3) Your drive to be helpful, needed and in the mix is fueled every time you say YES. Today’s the day to start saying NO more and deny a request or two. (Which, in truth, is really still saying YES to things, like your sanity, that are more important)


You want to be patient, really you do.  Still, why is it, the more you force patience, it leaks out in frustration?  At first, it’s like a drip yet patience leaks quickly become an annoying thorn in everyone’s side.

Top three signs?

  1. You consider crossing your arms and rolling your eyes a great way to send non-verbal cues to get people to shut up.
  2. When people are two minutes late, you make it crystal clear that behavior is always unacceptable
  3. You are constantly texting quick questions because you need to know NOW.

What to do about it?

First thing you need to do?  Acknowledge the feelings that impatience gives you: stress, anger, frustration, short-tempered, superior etc.  When you know what a patience leak feels like, you can catch it and repair it more quickly the next time around.

Now, breathe, in and out, count to three or 103 if you need it.  You can stop counting when you feel calmer (but keep on breathing).  From this calmer and wiser place, tap into yourself for some self-mentoring.


  • Do I really need this NOW?
  • How do I feel when others treat me with no respect?
  • What do I want my legacy to be?
  • Will my tapping foot make things go right or make things worse?

In the next post in the series, we’ll take a look at three more leaks that plague many of us: empowerment, idea and relationship leaks.

Where do you struggle the most living your leadership?  What leaks do you need to fix to live and lead at your best?

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

(Photo credit)

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Lalita Raman February 18, 2014 at 5:49 am

Fantastic post Alli. I. Was thinking about anger today and how I lose my temper on things I am so concerned about. Yet anger is no use. Great post on mentioning time, anger and patience as leaks. Love the analogy.


Alli Polin February 18, 2014 at 6:28 am

Thanks, Lalita! I do the same! I told my son the other day the reason I was so upset by his behavior is because I care so much. Still, there are 1000 ways I can let him know that I care and his choices matter other than getting angry.

Many thanks for sharing your experience too!


Joy Guthrie February 18, 2014 at 7:23 am

Love it, Alli! Little leaks happen all the time. We’re not as good as keeping them hidden as we think.


Alli Polin February 18, 2014 at 8:07 am

Thanks so much, Joy! Yes, leaks do happen all the time and without really looking at our behaviors, those leaks can cause some big-time problems not only for us but for the people in our lives too.

Loved your picture on G+ today! Right in line with this. No matter how well we think we’re doing covering up how we’re really feeling… it always gets out.


Carl February 18, 2014 at 7:38 am

Great metaphor Alli, and as you mentioned, Awareness is the first step to fixing the leaks.

Best regards,


Alli Polin February 18, 2014 at 8:09 am

Awareness is critical! It’s easy to rush around nonstop and much harder to commit to not only intentionally looking at our behaviors but also commit to change.

Thanks, Carl!


Hoda Maalouf (@MaaHoda) February 18, 2014 at 7:39 am

Great Post Alli! It came at the right time as I’m going through time leaks.
I definitely need to start saying “No” to many requests and to delegate some of my work.

Looking forward to read the sequel!



Alli Polin February 18, 2014 at 8:10 am

I’ll say a big YES to more NOs for you 🙂

So glad it came at the right moment. Love when that happens!

All the best with saying NO so you can say YES to YOU!



Bill Benoist February 18, 2014 at 9:12 am

This is a great post on self-awareness. So many of these leaks can go unnoticed and just like a car, think how damaging they can be in the long run. We cannot NOT communicate, so its best to make sure our valves are tight.


Alli Polin February 18, 2014 at 6:12 pm

I’m with you, Bill. People truly don’t see their behavior or they know that they’re doing it and choose not to change. Either way, something’s broken and the damage could have long-term impact.

Appreciate your insight on this!


Terri Klass February 18, 2014 at 10:01 am

Great post Alli and can’t wait for Part 2!

I find anger to be toxic and capable of destroying both professional and personal relationships. I love your points about recognizing anger, especially raising our voices to be heard. That is a sure sign of feeling left out and not being taken seriously. It can be so painful.

Thanks Alli!


Alli Polin February 18, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Terri –

You have really raised such an important point that truly gets to the heart of anger – feeling left out and not being taken seriously. It’s painful on both sides and the reason it often descends in to anger is the inability to express those feelings any other way.

With sincere thanks to you!


LaRae Quy February 18, 2014 at 11:42 am

Such a powerful post, Alli! You’ve really got me thinking about where those “leaks” are in my own life, and I can’t wait to read your next post to see what other leaks I may have!

Time leaks for me are the biggest issue. I’ve had to get really serious about prioritizing…I recommend it for others, but fail to do it myself! Your suggestions are spot-on, and I have found that by strategizing my short term, intermediate, year long goals it has helped me prioritize what I need to get done.

Every day, I have at 3 goals to accomplish, and if I get them all done, I give myself a breather instead of getting a jump start on the next day’s goals. It’s a small reward but it sure is nice to “relax” instead of always pushing myself…

Great article, Alli. Only you could find such a teachable moment in a parking lot 🙂


Alli Polin February 18, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Thanks, LaRae for your comment and for sharing your best practice here too! I’ve been challenged with my time too recently. Three goals a day. Feels so do-able and helps narrow down those things that need to get done soon or someday vs today. Love it and plan to put it into practice!


Jon Mertz February 18, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Love the “leaks” analogy for leadership, as it is so true! When we let the leaks go unnoticed or un-dealt with, we really do end up draining ourselves and others around us. The leak spreads!

We need to setup some personal leadership instrumentation to detect our leaks and the rate at which they are happening. We need to address them sooner rather than later. I believe this is where mindfulness practices can really assist in our leadership leak detection and correction.

Great post as always, Alli! Thank you Jon


Alli Polin February 18, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Mindfulness is absolutely key. When we’re truly in the moment, connected to ourselves and others it enables us to have a heightened sense of noticing.

I’ve also found that two tiers of trusted advisors have helped me. 1) The one that gives me a sign in the moment that I’m leaking and 2) Mentors and coaches that help me see my behavior in new ways and make new choices.

Without detection, correction is impossible!

Fantastic addition, Jon. My thanks to you!


Tom Rhodes February 18, 2014 at 11:33 pm


Great post…needed thst personal mechanic. Can’t wait to see the second list. I love how you day everyday life and turn it into a lesson. Great jo b.


Alli Polin February 19, 2014 at 6:11 am

Ha! There are times we could ALL use a personal mechanic! Many thanks, Tom!


Chery Gegelman February 19, 2014 at 4:14 am

I love ths Alli – I don’t get much about how cars work but I understand fluids! …And leaking. You have a gift for taking the ordinary and turning it into powerful object lessons! Thank you!


Alli Polin February 19, 2014 at 6:11 am

I’m not great with cars either but holding up the mirror to my life and my clients lives to see what’s going on? Little better 😉

Thank you so much for your comment and for your encouragement!


Karin Hurt February 19, 2014 at 8:34 am

Beautiful analogy. You raise 3 big opportunity for leaks… it’s got me thinking about where I’m most likely to leak. Our opportunities for bursting are different for each of us… as you say, being aware and taking early action is so important.


Alli Polin February 19, 2014 at 9:14 pm

That’s so right on, Karin. Where I may struggle the most is actually where you have the most strength. Hopefully, people will leave here taking a close look at where they struggle the most and take some much needed action.



Mike Brown February 20, 2014 at 8:43 am

Love the way you connect the dots…Most of the time – we notice “blow-ups”…it’s the slow leaks that get the best of us…a little oil here…a little anger there…nice reminder for us to all look in the mirror and see how our leaks are impacting others…


Alli Polin February 23, 2014 at 4:34 am

Yes! It’s the small leaks that we hardly notice over time that lead to big problems. A drip in my ceiling went unnoticed until it fell down. Nobody I know wants the same thing to happen to their life and leadership. Thanks, Mike!


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