by Mark Johnson, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer

Although I have a law degree, much of my career has been dedicated to improving performance and compliance in company operations. This has led to many opportunities to improve circumstances including times where I have stepped into a leadership vacuum and turned things around.

First off, what is a leadership? Being a leader and being aggressive are similar in that they are states of “making things happen.” If you are an individual who makes things happen and takes on ownership and accountability, you are a leader and by this definition you are aggressive. Aggression isn’t negative if it makes good situations happen or overcomes inertia and creates movement.


A leadership vacuum occurs when the results in a leader’s area aren’t what they need to be. This could be in another leader’s area, or in your own. If the vacuum is in your own area, it’s imperative that you figure out a solution, sooner rather than later.

Many careers have soared by figuring out how to do what at first seems impossible. This takes full understanding of your area, creativity and innovative thinking. If you don’t grasp how your department works, or how your employees execute their work, this process will be more difficult. However, still achievable.


I was hired into a company that sold insurance coverage to medical systems and HMOs. Part of my job was to develop large quantities of HMO or medical coverage contracts tailored with the policyholder’s name, address, network and contract terms. Under the contract, there were 100,000 – 200,000 individualized certificates.

About to enter into a half-million-dollar agreement, the vendor would take six months to get up to speed. The company used mainframe technology to assemble documents. As an attorney, I was very familiar with document assembly software and contacted the premier vendor of desktop-based document assembly software, which software sold for $90 per desktop.

After talking with them, the company decided to tailor a master application that would take individual agreement inputs, matched with excel list downloads of certificate holder information, and produce contracts or certificates in batch mode overnight. The programming cost around $50,000. For about $52,000, I replaced the expensive vendor with software that we understood, controlled, and produced with in-house employees. We saved approximately $450,000 and kept control of the project in-house.


If you believe you can make a difference, and the leadership vacuum is someone else’s responsibility, consider these approaches:

  • Approach that leader and offer to help. More than likely you’ll be met with resistance simply because no one likes to be “out maneuvered” by someone else doing their job.
  • Check with your boss or the other leader’s boss
  • Go to a higher-level leader that your areas have in common, such as the CFO, CHRO, General Counsel or CEO

The best scenario is to look for a vacuum of poor results in an important sector that no one seems to want and hasn’t been resolved. Perhaps the area has bounced around a bit and needs full-time attention to become organized and efficient. Take a chance. Be smart about your decision and you can experience the career acceleration a leadership vacuum has to offer.