The Kayak

Many years ago, a certain candidate – the former mayor of a small town – was tapped as a vice-presidential running mate for a popular senator’s bid for president. It soon became clear that she lacked the depth of experience or breadth of knowledge to make it through a press conference without major faux pas, let alone potentially run the country. Although she seemed to check off a few boxes that would supposedly bring in votes from targeted constituencies, it was a disaster all around. An adequate small-town mayor, she became a long-running national joke as a candidate. (And yes, they lost.)

In my Linkedin Post What Size is Your Leader-Ship? I approach one’s readiness for leadership in relation to the size of the organization they are – or are not – called to lead. This mini-series goes into greater depth on each point.

The principle and importance of size

While it is obvious what one needs to know to succeed as an astrophysicist, what it takes to be an organizational leader varies according to every book, Ted-Talk, and thought leader. Even once we identify who the leaders are, we still need to ask:

What bandwidth and traits of character are foundational at each level, in order to succeed.

Here are principles I believe will help you to explore the “Leader-Ship” analogy. But let’s start at the beginning…

The Kayak

I love the water and in terms of vessels, I have canoed, rafted, paddle-boated, row-boated, speedboat, yacht, ridden ferry boats, toured a harbor on a large commercial sailing vessel, been on a fishing boat (got seasick), and even drove bumper boats with my kid’s eons ago.

However, I have assiduously avoided the kayak. I like speed, action, and usually, company. I’ve also seen too many action movies where kayaking doesn’t end well.

Having passed kayakers on rivers while I canoed or rowed away, I know that there is something I am missing in my experience with moving water. The bliss of the solitary pursuit. Kayaking can offer that.

Linking this kayaking analogy to the” leadership” continuum, before we can even think of steering a tug boat or being captain of a Navy vessel,

we have to develop self-mastery. We must learn to lead ourselves. We also need humility and the ability and willingness to self-reflect without self-condemnation.

The late author Stephen Covey frequently taught and wrote of the logical sequence of mastery, whether over personal goal achievement or as leaders. He describes it in terms of the biblical “Six Days of Creation”. In that scriptural account, God had to create things like plants before creating the creatures that would depend on those plants for food. There had to be mist before creating those plants, but only after creating a world to house it all.

If you cannot master the basics, you will never achieve your goal of advancing through the vessels. You won’t even be a good kayaker.

Learning to kayak begins with selecting the right kayak for you, having the proper equipment on, and one of the most important first steps, learning how to get onto the boat properly. If you don’t, you’ll immediately tip over.

Have you mastered these steps before even begin thinking of leading anyone else?

1- Are you self-motivating? Why do so many organizations hire people and then end up hiring a consultant, like me for instance, to come and “motivate” them? It seems that more and more people with hiring authority, at least in the private sector, have caught on and are hiring self-motivating people.

2- Can you manage your time? If you cannot prioritize and manage your own time, how will you manage the priorities of a company with 5 or 5,000 employees? There are principles of time management and prioritizing that correspond regardless of the size of the team you are managing. But if you cannot figure out how to have your next day’s outfit ready, find the train schedule or look up the current traffick if you’re commuting, or in a virtual environment plan out your work without someone standing over your shoulder reminding you to stay focused, you are nowhere near ready for a bigger boat.

3 – Do you have mastery over your own emotional health (or “interior life”)? Often used interchangeably, emotionally healthy or emotionally intelligent leadership has been lauded for several years now. Study after study has demonstrated a clear relationship between an individual’s effectiveness as an employee and their ability to monitor and control their strongest impulses, work with others, self-soothe, and put space between a difficult interaction at work and responding reactively.

4- Do you give up too soon or can you persist when learning something new? I have a granddaughter with special needs. One of the things I most admire is how she, at 6 years old (now 9) she would turn to a youtube clip of a tv show song and sit at my piano, playing it over and over and over until she got it right. Any child or adult would get frustrated at having to go back and start over repeatedly. But she knew what she wanted it to sound like, so she’d persist until she got it just right. Leadership essential is “grit” and stick-to-itiveness.

5. Can you fail and get over it? Very related to #4, are you willing, even in the face of public embarrassment, to cop to it and publicly try again? I admire community college students I used to teach who not only repeated a course when they failed but repeated MY course when I was the one that failed them! A leader will fail with the whole world watching. Let’s show them how it’s DONE.

6. Are you lazy? Be honest. Do you have a bunch of half-done projects around the house? That exercise program you never got around to doing, all the essential things you said you would finally do – but still haven’t? Do you wake up behind schedule? Always the “universe’s” fault for you being late? Do you make a lot of excuses for yourself? Are people frustrated with you over all the promises you’ve broken?

This is a first or second-day creation thing and you have to dig deep, figure out what your self-defeating habits might be, and turn things around.

Either that or ground your kayak.

Coming soon

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