Leader of the Pack
This past month brought the start of another racing season to Annapolis, the
self-proclaimed "Sailing Capital of the World," and the place I call home. If you wonder how grown men (and quite a few women) can get so excited about a sport where the competitors are typically moving at speeds of seven or eight miles an hour, you should have been out on the water this past weekend to watch the start of the final leg of the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race. The boats that race in this grueling 10-month
contest are technological marvels with top speeds in excess of 40 miles per hour, and their captains and crew are the rock stars of competitive sailing. What a rush it was to have these amazing machines blow by you on their way down the Chesapeake Bay!
Sailing offers so many metaphors for leadership, and life as well, that I almost hesitate to turn there yet again for inspiration, but I just can't seem to resist. And sure enough,
the race restart this weekend provided ample opportunity for these observations. I was struck especially by how a few gutsy moves can make all the difference among a group of very evenly-matched competitors. At the starting gun, six of the seven boats took off in a pack along the same tack, while one headed off away from the rest.
Sailboat racing requires an ability to quickly integrate lots of information about many
key variables - the wind, the current, the tide, for example - and often even in local amateur races you'll see one or two boats make a counter-intuitive decision to leave the pack in hopes of gaining some advantage that the others haven't seen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Always, it makes the crew nervous, and the skippers on the other boats wonder what that guy knows that they don't. So as I watched this one boat sail away from the rest, I thought, "Now that takes a lot of guts."
For quite a while it looked like it might turn into a big tactical error, until the boats all made their turns around the first mark and the outlier turned up in second place. Then another boat made the same kind of go-it-alone course, and sure enough, several miles farther on down the Bay, they were leading the fleet. So what do these teams know that the rest of the pack doesn't? The answer is, nothing - all the teams have access
to pretty much the same information, at pretty much the same time. It's what they make of that information and what they know about how their own boats and crew will perform that gives them the courage to make such a bold move.
To go against the established judgment of the majority always carries with it a degree of risk, and these skippers were certainly taking big risks, but they knew the difference
between a calculated risk and a gamble. They also understood that once they chose a course, they were committed to it, no matter that the gap between them and the rest of the pack appeared to be widening. They had to have faith in their own judgment, and they had to show unwavering conviction to their crew. And if the risk they took had failed, they would have had to analyze why with unblinking eyes.
It's not hard to see the parallels between this race and leading any team in a highly competitive environment. As a leader, you must arm yourself with the best available information - and then be prepared to make a calculated decision to go against the accepted wisdom in order to win a real advantage over the competition. You have to know when is the right moment to commit to a different course of action, and you have
to stick with it at least long enough to give it a chance to succeed. And you must have built the trust and respect of your followers and your backers over time so that they'll be with you when you're ready to make that bold and gutsy move.
Coaching can support you in developing your capacity to make bold decisions as a leader in your organization. Call (410)626-6008, or email email@example.com to explore your options.
Think of a leader you admire because they went against the crowd in some way, whether in the domain of business, politics, sports, or some other type of undertaking. What do you think contributed to their decision to take a different strategy or tactic? What was the outcome? What can you learn from this example?
Reflect on your own leadership experience: have you ever taken a stance
separate from that of your peers in an organization? How did you arrive at the decision to go a separate way? What were your feelings at the time? If you had it to do over again, what might you do differently?
One in four new employees does not make it through their first year on the job,
according to a 2004 study by the Saratoga Institute.
Despite reforms and legislation in response to several major corporate accounting scandals, less than half (47%) of employees who have witnessed unethical activities by their bosses say they are likely to become whistle-blowers, according to a survey by Spherion Corp.
54% of employers in 2005 hired back at least a few of the people they had laid off
earlier, according to a survey by outplacement consultants Right Management.
Small behavioral patterns by managers that can signal disinterest or superiority, and
even lead employees to claim discrimination when they feel that they are not part of an office in-crowd. In a tight labor market, employers can't afford to lose talented workers, so according to Time magazine some companies are holding seminars to impress upon managers that they may have to start modifying their behavior to send the message that every employee's contribution is valued.
Resonant Leadership, by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee. What I like about it: The authors - who coauthored earlier bestselling works on
emotional intelligence and leadership with Daniel Goleman - bring multidisciplinary research and their own experience with leaders in organizations together. They argue that mindfulness, hope, and compassion are essential tools for self-management by today's leaders, who find themselves in ever-tightening cycles of stress and sacrifice with little or no recovery time built in. A humanistic take on the personal aspects of leadership.
Executive Coach, Strategy Consultant
Principal, Bloomfield Associates
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"The reason why so little is done, is generally because so little is attempted."
- Samuel Smiles
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