Resource Management Innovations PULSE Interactive Newsletter

Leaders Must Steer ~ Not Row!

Date PublishedApril 21, 2015
CompanyResource Management Innovations
Article AuthorRichard Kneeshaw
Article TypePULSE Interactive Newsletter Apr. 2015
CategoryPULSE Interactive
Tags, ,
PULSE Interactive

Leaders Must Steer ~ Not Row!

Resource Management Innovation Oilfield PULSE Newsletter April 2015

Resource Management Innovation PULSE Interactive  Newsletter April 2015The title captured my attention recently (I was reading one of my dad’s old navy journals) and hasn’t let me go. As with many subject matters, they represent disciplines that are timeless truths (axioms) that each generation of leadership feel compelled to re-learn for themselves. Many of the topics for my blog come out of my day to day organizational development consulting experience … working with leaders. Sometimes those leaders are spouses who sincerely desire an ‘end game strategy’ for a marriage or a family. Sometimes it is an individual who wants to spend more time working on their business and less time in their business. More often than not … it is with a president or the entire C-Suite … who desperately want to do the right thing … the lament being … “can someone tell me what the heck the thing is?”

Doesn’t it make sense, that before the ship leaves port, the Captain and his ‘Bridge Team’ (the Maritime C-Suite) as they are often referred to … have all the data they need to arrive at a predetermined destination, at a predetermined date and time? Crazy? Not at all. It is a most reasonable expectation … especially if you are a passenger or crew. We do have expectations of leadership, and all too often we have felt a disappointment with respect to those expectations. How often throughout history have we mistaken charisma for competence? A sincere (yet possibly) misguided zeal … in the absence of real knowledge. A campaign of zippy slogans often disappoints when the challenges of governance are confronted.

I thought the optics of steering vs rowing might be easier to internalize than the struggle folks sometimes have with vision (the bridge) vs mission (the boiler room). In this example, please know that in no way (no way!) am I minimizing the critical importance of rowing or the missional agenda of ‘getting there from here’. We just don’t need anybody on the bridge if the boilers aren’t firing and the propeller turning. Propulsion is critical … but in the absence of navigation, propulsion alone can be a life threatening hazard. We have many historical marine accounts of those ships that have lost navigation, propulsion or both. They drift at the whim of the elements … until nature itself provides a hard stop. Often, ungraciously.

Imagine then your frustration (which you may now be drawing from experience) of having someone up on the bridge with no known destination, but quite insisting on ‘being Captain.’ Often times surrounding themselves with the trappings and privilege of the position, but void of skill, experience or (*SMART) accountability.

fcae4558-0c01-4856-934f-f4369d7562e9.jpgSMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound.

Strategists ask two questions:

1) If what?
2) Then what?

Do you suppose our industry would be in the distress it is, had leadership at a regulatory level asked and answered those fundamentals in any one of the last four decades?

Let’s be clear. Leadership is an activity. It is not a title.

In his book A Work of Heart, author Reggie McNeal writes that “the single greatest debilitator of leadership is not moral failure, it is compass failure.” I think that sums it up nicely. The absence of navigation will get us exactly where? Right.

My experience in the field with leadership reminds me of a parable told of the cavalry when one would wish not to lose face in the eyes of the subordinates or the enemy yet with no clear strategy … “when in doubt, gallop.” I can’t tell you how many times in the course of an engagement I will see this carried out on the shop floor, or at the board room table.

At a time when we don’t seem to know what to do … lets redouble our efforts.

It is called the ‘buckets of sweat syndrome’. If I have been very busy, and as a result I am very tired … I can at least take some satisfaction in the sheer volume of my activity. Can’t I? Who could fault that?

Imagine if you will that scenario playing out in our ‘Captain of the Ship’ portrait … and how silly that would be. Yet, how many lives do you know of … that execute exactly that strategy?

I don’t know where I am going … but I’m going to work very hard to get there.

Or you hear the lament … “I work so hard, and I just don’t seem to get anywhere?”  … leaving their destination to good fortune, good will or maybe their lottery numbers?

Yes, I have them in my network of family and friends as well. Blaming circumstance on their disappointment with a failed destination … when they had no course charted in the first place. Then aligning the resources in a logical, congruent path to get there, from here. Yeah. That’s tactics. It can boil the world’s most sophisticated ‘Situation Room’ down to your living room.

Leadership is not about nor is it affected by venue.

The formula for effective leadership (be it family, marriage, neighbors, small business or a Fortune 500) … doesn’t amount to nuclear launch code algorithms. It boils down to being very intentional in discerning where are we going (Steering) and a missional agenda to get there (Rowing) … and no leadership library or blood line will compensate for wisdom (applied knowledge) and discernment (how & when to use it).

The teachings of King Solomon are a great place to begin … if you are looking for some personal or corporate coordinates today.

Note to self: That’s why the Captain isn’t the youngest person aboard. Isn’t it comforting when you recognize a little grey at the temples? Be of good courage.

Rick Keenshaw

Richard Kneeshaw is President of  Resource Management Innovations, Okotoks, AB, an organizational and business development consultant working with  individuals and organizations in establishing vision and mission.