Leading Into the Wind

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Leading on the Seas

I’m excited that there a couple of guest posts coming. I’ll be posting one in the next couple of days and then the second will be next week some time.  But in the meantime…I’ve been researching mariner and sailing lingo for a leadership development project I’ve been working on with my dad.  Down the road, I’ll probably post some of the fruits of what we’re working on in a more final form, but over the next couple months I’ll be submitting many posts that flow from some of the concepts related to sailing the seas and the life of a mariner.

If you’re into sailing or have historical knowledge of this field feel free to help refine the metaphors.  Here’s the first of many posts to come…One of the terms that I really found fascinating and helpful as it relates to leadership development is known as an “apparent wind.”

Wikipedia breaks it down here,

“In sailing, the apparent wind is the actual flow of air acting upon a sail. It is the wind as it appears to the sailor on a moving vessel. It differs in speed and direction from the true wind that is experienced by a stationary observer. In nautical terminology, these properties of the apparent wind are normally expressed in knots and degrees.” 

An “Apparent wind” is the combination of whatever true wind there is and the increased feeling of resistance from the forward motion of the vessel.   The wind isn’t any stronger, but one feels more wind resistance because you’re going into the resistance.

As I see it, true wind is circumstantial and is what you experience even if you were standing still, or if your “ship” is anchored in harbor.  The resistance and change that is going on in the culture and society or even in the immediate community might be experienced as “true wind” because it’s felt regardless of leadership action.  You’re feeling a resistance, change, and wind that is not connected to anything that you are doing or that your organization or community is doing.    Even if you aren’t attempting to lead anywhere, you’ll still feel some measure of resistance and the winds of change because there’s a bigger world that is constantly moving and changing.

With an apparent wind, the wind resistance feels more intense and there’s more pressure because you’re actually trying to go somewhere.  You’re feeling all the resistance that a passive community and leadership culture might experience, plus whatever resistance is added just by the effort to be proactive and step out of the status quo. And we all know how much people like to move from the status quo to the unknown.

So leadership needs to be mindful of both the reality of true wind resistance as well as the resistance of an “apparent wind” to maintain hope and perspective and not be discouraged by the challenges that come with leading into the wind.

Leaders should remember that when they’re really leading – the wind isn’t any stronger, but the experience is.  The experience is stronger and more difficult because you are attempting to actually do something as opposed to becoming a passive recipient of the effects of the true wind.

If you’re not experiencing an “apparent wind” then you’re probably not leading – the elements are acting upon you all the while you could be leading into the wind.  A lot of things get set in motion when you decide to actually move, many of which are challenging and difficult.  Leaders have a choice – stay in the harbor where it’s safer or hit the seas where you can live out what you were made for.

For more on this phrase: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_windWhat are the signs to you of an “apparent wind’ vs. the true wind around you?  How do you tell the difference in your own context?  How do you prepare to lead into increased resistance?

Leading Three Sheets to the Wind

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series Leading on the Seas

I thought for the next installment of my unorganized series of posts that I could call “Leading on the Seas” that I would choose one of the more colorful terms in sailing lore – three sheets to the wind.  I’ve been physically about 50% or less for the past 10 days so I’m excited to try to get back into things here as I start feeling a little better.

You most likely are familiar with the term as it relates to how it is used to describe a person’s level of drunkenness.  For example, “He’s been drinking all night and now he’s three sheets to the wind.”  Picture someone walking down the street in a drunken stupor – staggering in a zig-zag type of path with no ability to control or regulate his actions or physical ability to do what he might have in his mind to do.  It’s a sailing term – but not just because sailors might have been known for drinking heavily in their time off.  There’s a hierarchy too, which I learned from wikipedia – four sheets to the wind indicates someone who has drunken themselves into unconsciousness.

The “sheets” are not the big sails you might first think of – they are the ropes that keep the masts secure (see picture of 3 sheets).  “Three sheets to the wind” is a term that refers to when the sheets on the masts come loose.    On a three-masted ship, this would mean that there is absolutely no navigational control of the ship and you are completely at the mercy of the elements and wind.  You could have the best captain in the world, the best navigational chart and plans, and the best crew, but if those sheets come loose your vessel is going to resemble a drunken sailor walking down the street who has no ability to dictate where he ultimately will end up.   The wind would have total control of your ship and likely control over your fate and the fate of your crew as well.

I spent the better part of this past week doing strategic planning and talking about big vision, direction, and a variety of organizational priorities with my team.  It was hard work and great fodder for thought moving forward.  I thought it was a pretty productive time, perhaps more productive that 90% of past strategic planning processes I’ve been a part of previously and I was trying to figure out why I felt that way.  In talking with my team and hearing some of their thoughts, I think I landed that our success in this process and what I hope will be our success this year as we move forward – is dependent on a few critical capacities that don’t often get discussed in planning efforts and maybe worse yet they are assumed to exist.

For our team, here are the critical capacities that I think make our vessel go.   These I believe our are “three sheets” that if they are not tied down securely (see picture), then who knows where we end up down the road.  Without them, we would be like a crew that is doing all of its jobs and keeping the boat clean and functional – all the while having no control over where the ship is ultimately going.

  1. Absolute awareness & security in our identity as a team and the culture we want to create for ourselves and those we serve.
  2. The emotional, spiritual, and organizational resolve to differentiate ourselves individually and as a team from all the organizational stuff around us.  We’re reading Orbiting the Hairball together as a step to continue to grow in our ability to relate well to the complexities around us, but avoid entanglement enough to offer an inspired leadership effort that is creative and value-driven and not rote or reactionary to organizational demands and bureaucracy.
  3. Total clarity on what it means to empower people and having the clear and adult resolve to lead ourselves and foster that type of vision-driven responsibility among others.  This can sound generic – but what I mean is being very, very clear about what it means to truly empower, help, and serve people in the areas we’ve been called to and creating a culture of adulthood and responsibility.  A lot of people use “empowerment” but don’t know how to do it.  We need to have a very clear picture about how to empower in our context.

We need these three things to be secure first on our team, and then ultimately throughout our whole organization and context for our vision to be realized.  Yet typical teams don’t frequently talk about them!

Any general defaulting of real and authentic leadership by positional leaders can result in the three sheets to the wind effect.  But my point here is to highlight some of those fundamental capacities that not even a great or charismatic leader compensate for.  The above things frankly would never really show up in a strategic plan apart from perhaps maybe an oversimplified stated value.  This is where strategic plans must be submitted to some higher level leadership realities.  Strategic plans are great tools, but by themselves they don’t make for inspired leadership.  Yet so many still seem to want to use their strategic plans to inspire.  I say find another way!

All that to say, with good leadership and good plans you can accomplish some good stuff, but without having your three sheets securely fastened you won’t end up where you really would like to be when it’s all said and done.

When you think of “three sheets” or three masts that preserve the integrity of your efforts to lead and move forward, what comes to mind?

What fundamentally needs to be in place in your context for you to retain the capacity to move together with your team or community to the ultimate vision you are working towards?  How do you foster those critical capacities?You can read more on “sheets” here.

Empowerment and the Wind in our Sails

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Leading on the Seas

Here’s the next installment of “Leading on the Seas.”  I chose another fairly common phrase in today’s vernacular – “taking the wind out of their sails.”

Here’s the basic definition via wikipedia:Taking the wind out of his sails – To sail in a way that steals the wind from another ship. cf. overbear.

Picture yourself in a boat that is in motion.  The wind is behind you, you’ve got momentum and speed.  Then another boat navigates in such a way where they actually steal your wind.  Very quickly you go from momentum and speed to being somewhat dead in the water – just floating there knowing that it’s going to take a heck of a lot of work to get back the momentum you just lost.

Empowerment is a buzz word today and I blog on it frequently.  But is there a better metaphor than “having the wind taken out of your sails” for those moments when you are riding high on vision and motivation and someone hijacks your momentum for whatever reason?  A similar metaphor would be “raining on your parade,” but we’ll stick with the seas for now.

I’ve gone on record as writing that empowerment is a fine art that many claim to value, but fewer really know how to do.  They like it in theory, but it’s hard for them to see whether empowerment is really happening or not.  It’s the same for disempowerment.  Leaders often fail to recognize when they have taken the wind out of people’s sails.  As long as they’ve got smooth sailing, they don’t recognize their impact on others.

Sometimes the wind is taken out of people’s sails by unfortunate circumstances.  Other times it’s a product of leadership philosophy, lack of awareness, or lack of character.  Some don’t have a vision for empowering others.  They might use the word, but they see people as tools to achieve their goals.  They delegate, they use.  Some people just have no idea about their presence or impact on others.  They don’t understand how to steward or manage their power.  They don’t understand how people experience them.  Others abuse power because of character issues or they have other issues that lend themselves to self-focused leadership.

I’ve taken the wind out of people’s sails before.  I’ve had the wind taken out of my sails.  It’s a bummer all the way around.  The end result is the eroding of trust, messages of lack of belief or confidence from leadership, and an environment where tasks take priority over people and values.

Servant leadership demands an intentional and clear effort to empower people.   A fundamental aspect of leadership in any context is to figure out how to help others gain momentum and speed, not hijack their wind because of a limited leadership paradigm, lack of awareness or EQ, or character issues.  As leaders we can be the wind behind our people’s sails (rather than beneath their wings!) or we can leave them dead in the water having to work two or three times as hard to lead out the way they are called to.

How do you seek to help others build momentum as leaders, empowering them towards greater fruitfulness and development?

How do you handle it when you realize you’ve taken the wind out of people’s sails?  What do you do with leaders that you might experience that routinely take the wind out of your sails?

Ringing the Bell of Communication

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Leading on the Seas

I’m excited to post the next installment of leading on the seas today.  So far all the posts have related to “wind” in some way, so I’m excited to go a different direction today.  If you want to check out the other “leading on the seas” posts you can find a listing of them here.

When you think about leading a crew on the seas, one of the immediate issues facing the captain would be maintaining clarity, order and cohesion to keep things “sailing smoothly.”  There are a few ways that this typically has been worked out, but one is “The Ship’s Bell.”

The ship’s bell is rung traditionally eight times a day and traditionally was used to synchronize the crew’s watches.  It brought structure and order to a potentially chaotic situation, and gave shape and form to the daily grind of duties for the crew.

When I think of many leadership efforts today, including some of my own I think there’s often a lack of consistent and meaningful communication that results in clarity of roles and direction.  There’s no shortage out there of communication that seeks to delegate jobs, issue policies, and share organizational “facts” of one kind or another.  But there’s typically less communication that functions to keep people focused, keep them on the same page, and that helps them understand where their work stands in the bigger context of what’s going on.

The Ship’s Bell has been an alignment mechanism that aligns everyone to the same schedule and same flow.  It also has evolved into a symbolic mechanism that rallies the whole crew together.  The Ship’s Bell has often been used to baptize infants!

Leadership communication is such a significant part of facilitating community and also getting things done.  I do marvel how often the things that need to get communicated so frequently do not in favor of a bunch of lower-level “stuff.”  As leaders, we have opportunities to invest in the stability of our teams and communities and one of the best avenues to do this is communicating in a similar fashion as “the ship’s bell.”  In fact, if we fail to communicate in this fashion, we will be facilitating the erosion of core values over time and vision will take a back seat to the tyranny of the urgent.

Today there are more ways than ever to communicate – though that doesn’t mean they are all effective or appropriate in any situation.  We need to find the best ways to communicate with our people and be consistent in that communication and make sure that we are communicating about what is MOST important.

One caveat from the Ship’s Bell metaphor is that it is one-way communication.  Nobody today can afford to take such an approach, so communication today always must include one or more return streams of input in return.  But the point remains – we have to consistently communicate about what is most important because if we don’t we’re contributing to chaos over time and we lose the ability to keep action and work connected to core values.

One fact I found interesting was that it was frequently the ship’s cook and not the captain who had the job of ringing the bell throughout the day.  It’s a reminder to me that communication can come from a lot of places and serve the same unifying and meaningful purpose as long as there as a good foundation has been laid.

I think some of why the Ship’s Bell took on symbolic status over time is because of the meaning that people associate with trust and consistency.  The Ship’s Bell helped people trust that there was a greater meaning to what they were doing and it kept them focused and clear on what they should be doing and when they should be doing it.  Trust is huge – and it doesn’t happen over time without consistent and clear,  value-driven communication.

What are some ways that a leader can effectively communicate with his or team today?

How can leaders consistently keep their teams anchored in their vision and values amidst constant forces (internal and external) that seek to undermine them? Most leaders all think they communicate well with their teams, so why do you think there often is a disconnect?  How do you guard against that?

Identifying the Ox-Eye

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Leading on the Seas

Here’s the next installment of “Leading on the Seas”:

While often known just as a flower term, an ox-eye is “A cloud or other weather phenomenon that may be indicative of an upcoming storm or phenomenon that may be indicative of an upcoming storm.” (Wikepedia)

One of the great capacities or abilities of great leaders is being able to look down the road and identify trouble that’s coming early enough to be able to do something about it.

The “Ox-Eye” weather phenomenon would serve as a warning of bad weather coming.  A captain and crew would then need to make adjustments so that they didn’t subject their ship or crew to unnecessary danger or overwhelming weather.  They could choose to postpone their progress or they could chart out a new direction to circumvent the coming danger.

In extreme cases, these are decisions that save or doom lives and can seal the fate of the entire vessel itself.  Not all dangers on the seas give fare warning, but looking at the moments in which they do I wanted to offer a couple reflections on why sometimes we fail to identify the ox-eye and continue leading into dangerous waters.

I see three primary reasons that we as leaders can fail to identify the ox-eye that may present itself in our leadership context:

  1. Over-focus on their navigation tools and itineraries and sailing plans. One of the great detractors from attentiveness to the future is the compulsion to try to control the present which is facilitated by all of the planning tools.  Precision in the short-run wins out over vision in the long-run.  I see this with fixation on strategic plans, organizational charts, and other strategic tools.  They’re great in context, but they can lead to your ruin if you can’t see anything else.
  2. Lack of Sight. Captains and crews who just don’t know what to look for can’t identify warning signs.  If you aren’t aware of what those signs are or know what to look for then you can fail to see what is coming.  For young leaders this maybe is developmental and focused on growing awareness.  The older you’re in the game this begins to just look like incompetence.
  3. Pride. Captains and crews who identify the Ox-Eye, but reject wisdom in favor of macho or vanity inspired leadership decisions.  Weather it’s driven by the quest for glory, image management, or just sheer achievement, reckless choices in the face of warning signs will doom your leadership, your crew, and your vessel.

There are seasons where you have smooth sailing.  Then there are seasons where you may find yourself in a serious storm.  But there’s a season in which there are clues and warning signs about impending danger in which there is a small window in which you can do something about it.  Good Captains can lead in those moments, but identifying the danger properly is the key to knowing what would be the proper course of action.

What helps you identify “Ox-Eye” patterns that signal potential danger and threats to your leadership context?

How to you guard against those barriers or temptations that hinder our capacity to see the “Ox-Eye?”

Bearing an Albatross

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Leading on the Seas

Here’s another reflection in the “Leading on the Seas” series of posts here.  Check the category link to “Leading on the Seas” for a listing of other posts in the series.

There’s some great background on the term Albatross from the wikipedia entry “Albatross metaphor”,

“the word albatross is sometimes used to mean an encumbrance, or a wearisome burden.[1] It is an allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798). 

In the poem, an albatross starts to follow a ship — being followed by an albatross was generally considered an omen of good luck. However, the titular mariner shoots the albatross with a crossbow, which is regarded as an act that will curse the ship (which indeed suffers terrible mishaps). To punish him, his companions induce him to wear the dead albatross around his neck indefinitely (until they all die from the curse, as it happens). Thus the albatross can be both an omen of good or bad luck, as well as a metaphor for a burden to be carried (as penance).

The symbolism used in the Coleridge poem is its highlight. For example:

Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks

Had I from old and young !

Instead of the cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung.”

An Albatross is a significant burden then in modern language, which stems from some of the above traditions and context.  In fact, where I hear it the most is in reference to really bad professional athlete contracts.  As a Cub fan, the 8 year and billion dollar contract given to Alfonso Soriano is frequently identified as an “Albatross.”  If you think of your favorite pro team, chances are there’s someone on the team that earns a disproportionate amount of money compared to performance and it’s a commitment that hamstrings the team’s ability to make the team better.  The contract becomes an immense burden that a team cannot escape.

There are things in any leadership context that can become an Albatross.  Traditions and commitments to the way things have been can lead to a significant investment in “preserving the past.”  Some of this is important for continuity and values and heritage.  But when a disproportionate amount is invested, then the past and the traditions of the past can become an Albatross.

Conferences can be an Albatross when tradition dictates you keep doing them though perhaps there is a disproportionate amount of resources going into them.  You commit to contracts, you execute the traditional yearly program, you get locked in and the commitments end up dictating your leadership and not the other way around.

The impact of significant decisions can be an Albatross, just like the Mariner’s decision to shoot the Albatross with a crossbow in Coleridge’s poem.  Some decisions are so bad, they leave a stench for years even when nobody can recall its origins after years have gone by.  The impact of losing quality people, damaging trust, squandering resources, going into significant debt, or whatever it may be can create an Albatross like burden that contexts have to bear for years.

But fear not, we don’t need to follow the Ancient Mariner and be doomed forever by our Albatrosses.  There are times where we must bear an Albatross for a time.  We need to have the fortitude to persevere when there’s limited options.  However, with intentionality and courage and hard work we can eventually shed those Albatrosses and lead free.

As a side commentary, these are days in which it is important to be free of leadership Albatrosses.  Contemporary community, modern technology, and a host of other things have shaped a faster and more agile leadership climate in which trust and flexibility is critical.  Leading free is important for long term success and empowering future generations.

I’m curious what comes to your mind personally or organizationally when you think of the metaphor of an “Albatross.”  Please share a thought or reflection if something comes to your mind.  Is there something you’ve identified that is holding you back as a leader – personally or organizationally?

When you see or have been under the weight of an Albatross – personally or organizationally – how have you seen success and fruit in getting free of it?

The Reverse Albatross

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series Leading on the Seas

Earlier this week I posted on leadership albatrosses. Today, I’m flipping that discussion on its head and posting on a phenomenon that might be able to be called a “reverse albatross.”

While an albatross is a burden or commitment that really prevents leaders from leading in the direction and manner which is needed at a given season, a reverse albatross works much the same way though for different reasons.

A reverse albatross is when you are not bound or stuck in a bad situation or are limited in your decisions by an external force, but you choose to bind yourself anyway because there are reasons, usually material, that lead you to choose safety and security over making a hard call that frees you up to lead.

The best example of a reverse albatross is connected to events or programs that some of us affectionately refer to as “cash cows.”  There are those events – conferences or programs or something else – that generate so much money for you that even though it’s the smartest thing to go a different direction you keep doing it because you can’t walk away from the money.  So it functions the same way as an Albatross in that you are not free to lead, but the reason lies in your own psyche and capacity to say no to money and easy material gain.

Doesn’t matter if you could do the same thing for free because of technological advances – you keep doing it because you can’t bear to part with the easy money.

Programs and conferences and events that make money, but that are not serving ultimately where you are going ultimately function as a leadership albatross if you don’t have the courage or fortitude to say no to them when wisdom and vision and mission is calling you to change and go a different direction.  There are at least three significant conferences or events that I can think of right now in my own general context that I think could be eliminated – but it would force a major financial shift if they were and I don’t see much change on the horizon.

Are we free to adapt and change to what is needed today?  I say – probably not when you can’t eliminate events that aren’t worth the money that is put into them as it relates to the bigger picture of where you are really going.

Of course I have a non-profit perspective in this and a ministry perspective at that, but the central premise is that whether you are truly bound by something out of your control or whether you psychologically bound by money or control and safety or security, you’re still bound to an albatross and you need to “get yourself free.” And as I quote that, the song “50 ways to leave your lover” becomes entirely appropriate for this post.  In fact, that could be the anthem for liberating your leadership from antiquated cash cows and things that function like leadership quick sand.

So here are my quick tips for cash cow albatrosses:

Just Say No.

“Slip out the back Jack, make a little plan Stan, drop off the key Lee, and get yourself free.”
– the great leadership consultant known as Paul Simon

How would you advise people to transition from events that they might be financially dependent on, but that they aren’t serving the mission like it needs to other than funding corporate expense and travel budgets?

How do you keep yourself and your ministry or organization free from getting sucked into the trappings of financial security and gain to the degree it hinders or slows you down from leading towards the vision?

Any other Reverse Albatrosses you see out there besides Cash Cows?


Taking an In-Water Survey (Evaluating on the Go)

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Leading on the Seas

Here’s the next installment of the “Leading on the Seas” series.  Head over to the “Leading on the Seas” link in the list of categories to the right for more in the series.

Evaluation is always a critical part of leadership efforts.  It’s important to measure up results with objectives and examine whether things are going well or need to be improved.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some value in evaluating.  People like to do it – whether it’s after a date, after a wedding, after a movie, or after just about any other significant experience.  We evaluate.  It’s what we do.

But not all evaluation is equally beneficial or productive.  One reason can be a black and white and overly structured approach to evaluation that leads some to only feel like they can evaluate when everything is over and done with.  So basically when it’s too late to make any corrections or changes.  It’s important to evaluate at the conclusion of a project or season of work, but if we wait we miss out on improving things as we go and ensuring greater integrity and better results as well.

Marine vessels typically had to be “drydocked” to examine all of their underwater parts.  This happened only when a vessel was not in the water and going somewhere.  So for the ship to be checked out, it could not be on a journey. It was sidelined.

A new method was eventually discovered called an “In-Water Survey”, which is a “method of surveying the underwater parts of a ship while it is still afloat instead of having to drydock it (wikipedia).   This was a great step forward because it meant that the ship didn’t have to be removed from the water to take a full inspection of that which usually cannot usually be seen.

Waiting until the end of a project to do all the evaluation or assessment of how things are going is the equivalent of having to pull the ship out of the water.   There is no opportunity to get back in the water quickly or continue on the journey without significant delay.   Those who find ways to assess and evaluate as you go accomplish a few things.   First, they find ways to make adjustments quickly and in a timely fashion.  Second, they avoid having to wait for a scheduled drydock to evaluate at which point significant damage might already have been done which undermines the integrity of the vessel.  Finally, they avoid long “evaluation” delays because there is a quicker and more integrated approach to assessment and evaluation built into the process.  The ship is in the water and can stay in the water, avoiding significant delays.Of course you don’t want to build a culture in which you are evaluating all the time.  That’s probably worse than a drydock.  But if you can find ways of consistently assessing what typically goes unnoticed in the daily flow of activity it should position you and your team to be more agile and adaptable over the course of whatever project or in whatever leadership season you are in.

I’ve found that having occasional conversations about the culture our team is reproducing and our core values and how those values are being manifested and implemented are pretty helpful conversations that serve as “in-water surveys” in that these topics often get neglected in favor of pure evaluation of goals and priorities and tasks.

What are helpful ways that you can take “in-water surveys” of those things in your context that are not typically seen or noticed, but are of significant importance? And for fun, I saw this recently which speaks to maybe some of the difficulties in doing an “in-water” survey depending on who we’re leading.  Enjoy 🙂

Keeping Things Above Board

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Leading on the Seas

The phrase “Above Board” has long been associated with transparency and integrity – that nothing is shady or being hidden for corrupt purposes or selfish gain.  This term is anchored in marine tradition and practice.  When crews were to have their ships inspected or if they had a business deal, they would put out everything on the deck or in plain sight as a gesture of good faith or so business could be conducted easily or so they could be inspected.

Captains and crews who wanted to hide cargo or hide things of value would keep those things strategically hidden in the recesses of the ship.Above Board in common lingo and in sailing lore refers to things that are set out in plain sight, not hidden out of sight.

The metaphor is so ingrained in our culture as it relates to integrity and maintaining openness that I will go a little bit different direction as far as a modern day application.  If you have functioned in any organization then likely you have seen “closed door” meetings as well as “open door” meetings.  By open meetings I don’t mean that anyone can walk in off the street and join your meeting.  It means you give people access to what really is happening over the course of setting direction and making decisions.  Closed door meetings is when only the select few have access.  I like the “Above Board” metaphor because I think it relates really well to how leadership teams seek to control their image by taking refuge in privacy.

Certain things are often put out “on the deck” to project a spirit of openness and to build trust and confidence.  But often others can get a feel for whether everything’s “Above Board” or if there’s secret cargo below that is not being talked about.   Leaders and teams who try to hide cargo can fool some people, but not their best people.Hiding cargo doesn’t mean necessarily corrupt activity.  I think the danger I see is that teams and leaders can try to control their image so much that they keep all the real substance to their decisions and their presence to themselves.  The stuff that is put out on deck is only that which is polished and organized.  But here’s a couple things that teams can do to keep things Above Board and build trust and accountability rather than a culture of image management and organizational control.

  1. Let team members speak with independent voices at times.  Sometimes team members have to be in a position to be able to be held accountable.  There frequently is a “one voice” policy out there, which I believe from a communication standpoint is typically good as it relates to direction and whatnot.   But sometimes “one voice” becomes something that leadership teams can hide behind because it’s hard to hold individuals accountable when only “team” things are put out on the deck.  Be unified.  But be accountable too.  Let people own their decisions and take responsibility for them.
  2. Be intentional to put things out on the deck that are incomplete or unfinished.  Leaders who like “secret” meetings where they are solving the worlds problems often don’t like to let people know about process or the real issues and tensions that come up over the course of significant decisions.  They just work them all out behind closed doors and then come out and present a nice looking finished product.  But this usually dismisses context.  People trust you more when they can see the context and backdrop of where the decision or end result came from.  Just looking at the final product doesn’t typically allow people to appreciate the full scope or context that makes such a decision or product appreciated.  Ironically, by trying to control you can lose control as people lose trust because they don’t have access to the leadership struggle below the deck.  They don’t need to know all the business, but real is better than fake.  You can end up with a good or necessary leadership decision and still be fake doing it.
  3. Invite an inspection below the deck.  Choose to be open, vulnerable, and transparent out of a commitment to building trust and empowering others.  Let followers and other leaders check you and your team out a bit to learn about what makes you tic and whether you are trustworthy or not.  If you are not trustworthy, it would make since why you try to hide.  Reality will be exposed.  If you are trustworthy, then you only reinforce that by giving people access and you open yourself up for continued learning.

Keeping things “Above Board” is about honesty, trust, and fostering partnerships.  Sneaky efforts to hide cargo or disguise unsavory or unfinished things erodes trust and undermines empowerment.

Where do you think leaders need to keep things “Above Board?”  What types of things do you think most frequently are hidden away under the deck?

Click the category link “Leading on the Seas” in the right hand column to see more in this series of posts.  These posts are part of a larger leadership development project I’m working on so please feel free to add your thoughts and perspectives!