Leadership vacuum by Victor Cheng


Many people complain that they do not experience progress in their career. Victor Cheng writes about a smart tactic that you can use to solve this puzzle. He calls it leadership vacuum. Victor is a former employee of McKinsey, a leading strategy and management consulting firm in the world. Those who want further engagement with Victor can use the link at the bottom to make contact.


Hi Matthews,

No organisation is perfect. Gaps always exist. I have made an entire career out of ‘filling’ gaps, and I think you should too. A market gap exists when customers demand to have a particular problem solved, but suppliers have not caught up.

Nearly all of the interesting marketing opportunities in business centre around this market gap.

The more you realise such gaps exist, the more you will look for them. The more you look for them, the more you are likely to pursue them.

Organisational charts have gaps too. Most organisations have a chief executive officer with a team of senior executives reporting to her. There is often a chief finance officer, VP of marketing, VP of engineering, and the like.

When organisational charts are drawn up, you see lots of boxes indicating formal roles within departments.

Most people focus on getting promoted to the next box above them in the organisational chart. I never did.

Instead of focusing on the boxes that were already there, I always focused on the “white space” between the boxes. These were the gaps in organisational staffing.

Business problems do not always neatly fall into categories that only impact a single department like sales, finance or engineering.

When you try to take over the VP of sales’ responsibilities, he is going to object. However, if you take the lead in solving a problem that negatively impacts the sales department, but isn’t solely a sales department issue, rarely does anyone object.

It has to do with a concept I call the Leadership Vacuum. A leadership vacuum exists when many people agree a problem exists, it needs to be solved, but there is no obvious person whose responsibility it is to solve the problem.

In short, the problem is everybody’s problem and nobody’s problem all at the same time. For example: Customers buy a product and complain the product does not do what the salesperson said it would do.

The sales team is upset because this “product problem” negatively impacts repeat sales, but the sales department alone cannot change what is in the product.

Customer support confirms the complaint is pervasive and costs the department a lot of money in processing support tickets.

Engineering researches the claim and finds it’s not true. The product does exactly what it is supposed to and as per engineering design. The engineering department concludes the sales team must be “overselling” the product.

So, whose job is it to figure out what’s going wrong? In a sense, it is nobody’s job. In another, it is everybody’s.

This is a classic example of a leadership vacuum. It is a problem everyone agrees is a problem.

It is usually a problem that is messy without an obvious or easy solution. It is a problem everyone wants to go away, but nobody wants to take the lead on because it is not fully their responsibility and they are busy.

If you want to grow your network, stretch your skills and rise in your company (without threatening those already in power), you look for leadership vacuums- and you fill them.

Most organisational charts are designed to solve the most commonly recurring 80 percent of problems.

Spend your career in the other 20 percent-the annoying stuff that everybody hates, but the organisation isn’t well suited to handle automatically.

At every stage of your career, there is always… and I mean always… a leadership vacuum somewhere. n

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