“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle
Transformation is about profound change. Peter Drucker predicted that by 2020 a new world – completely different form our grandparents’ reality – would exist. Drucker, father of modern management, explained in a 1992 essay for Harvard Business Review, that “every few hundred years throughout Western history, a sharp transformation has occurred. In a matter of decades, society altogether rearranges itself – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions.”
It is a privilege to live through transformation; to be given the opportunity to see how society rearranges itself over the course of the years; to experience our grandparents’ reality along with our children’s triumphs and challenges. But no privilege comes without responsibility and I feel extremely responsible having been given the opportunity at a young age to take a step back and experience a bygone era; in my case, an era of sailing ships, leisure travel, unchartered waters and traditional navigational tools like compass and sextant.
Last year I wrote about what I had learnt about leadership on a 111 foot topsail schooner. This year I am grappling with how to be leaders in an age of transformation. The 2014 Global Drucker Forum focused on Transformation: Managing Our Way to Prosperity and it got me thinking about how we are given gifts through our experience and upbringing and how these gifts – when aligned correctly – can help us be able to “see around corners” and build a future in a transforming world; a world, as Drucker says, completely different from the one our grandparents and even parents grew up in.
I grew up on sailing ships; traditional wooden sailing ships that had very few comforts beyond a bunk, a well-stocked galley kitchen, and solidly built hull and rigging. How did this prepare me for thinking about transformation? I think living simply helps us to see something right in front of all of us: humanity. I think that with a human focus and finding those things that connect us all – the shining Southern Cross constellation, dolphins playing at the bow, lava rolling into a frothy sea off the Hawaiian Islands or voices joined in chorus to accompany raising sails – we are more prepared to see how we can keep continuity, stay relevant and move towards bettering our organizational practices even in a completely transformed (and transforming) society.
Transformation is about profound change so we must dig deep to find the simple things that connect us all. We must align ourselves with human interest and a larger purpose in order to survive and be relevant as the world changes around us.
Aristotle said that society is something that precedes the individual. If society undergoes change we cannot look to further individual or even organizational goals but rather have those goals connected to something larger.
I grew up on sailing ships; every summer I would sail around Vancouver Island (B.C.) and Desolation Sound and at the age of 10 I undertook my first offshore voyage from Victoria, B.C. (Canada) to Brisbane, Australia and back. Later trips included the intercoastal waterways of US and Canada and sailing around Latin America and the Caribbean.
Here is a summary of what my sailing experience taught me about being a leader:
1) It’s about trust.
There is an excellent video by Simon Sinek where he talks about how leaders eat last. Leadership is about creating a circle of people that trust you to lead them and to “provide” (in the broadest sense of the word) for them. Establishing trust as a leader – whether you are the captain or a member of the crew – is paramount to others contributing their talent, “risky” ideas and energy towards completion of a goal.
2) It’s about vision.
I’m talking about a tangible vision – not “we will to be the most respected company in the ….industry” but rather, “we will sail this 111 foot schooner to Australia and back”. I am a firm believer in establishing project vision at the start; every project (and project collaborator) needs to share a vision in order for people to be able to come together to create something valuable, meaningful and “real”; a project vision also helps people feel the rewards of achieving that vision once the project or journey wraps up.
3) It’s about communication.
Listening, talking, checking-in…leaders invest their time in people. They interact personally with their team and are often not the loudest person in the room because they listen and observe in order to lead more effectively and not fall into the traps of “trade-offs”. Of course they command when necessary (as a captain commands the person at the helm when entering a port or a military leader orchestrates a mission) but their “commands” are in line with the established goals that the project or organization is trying to achieve.
“He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.” Aristotle
4) It’s about forming other leaders.
I have “taken the helm” of a sailboat many times. I don’t remember having to ask for permission. Leadership means forming other leaders and inspiring others to take risks, take action and help to further the shared vision. It’s not about control or power but rather about giving those things to others so that the whole can be larger than the sum of its parts.
“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.” Peter Drucker
5) It’s about love.
We don’t use the “L” word very much in business but we are social creatures and helping others makes us feel good. When we communicate in person, shake hands or do something for someone else we feel good about it. Scientifically speaking, we are wired to release the “bonding” hormone oxytocin when we are generous towards others. Leadership is about fostering more connections and bonds with people. Sailing means living in very close quarters. Interactions are inevitable. The challenge is business is making transactions more like interactions and fostering dialogue and engagement with people in and outside the organization in order to make people feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. Leadership means making people feel like they are on a voyage of discovery.
Sailing onboard a ship – especially when you are out at sea and two weeks travel from the nearest landfall – teaches you about community, about sharing, and about leadership. It teaches you that people from all walks of life can come together to create something amazing – a society with a shared goal or purpose; a little floating ecosystem; a community of pioneers or explorers.
And you, what do you think leadership means?
The search for truth is in one way hard and in another way easy, for it is evident that no one can master it fully or miss it wholly. But each adds a little to our knowledge of nature, and from all the facts assembled there arises a certain grandeur.