Monday, June 21, 2010

Setting Sail to Greatness

I really hurt my back last week. Believe it or not, I injured it while participating in a little yoga stretching. “YOGA?” you ask. Yep. One of those lay on your back, knees stretch to one side, head and arms to the other. I’m sure there is a name for that position. Oh…I have a name for it alright: the BACK ACHE.

But it was my fault. I wasn’t ready. I don’t have the experience in Yoga to know my limits. I joined the class in progress after the rest of the group was well lubed and I…was my normal, inflexible self. I wasn’t ready.

Which brings me to young Abby Sunderland. You heard her story -- the little 16 year old from Thousand Oaks, California who attempted to sail solo around the world. She ran into trouble in the Indian Ocean and had to be rescued. The 30-foot swells of the Indian Ocean apparently got the best of her. In my opinion, she wasn’t ready either. Most 16 year-olds are not.

I acknowledge there are two ways to look at this situation. On the one hand, we can applaud the bold risk-taking of a person so young. She did make it roughly half way on that amazing journey. I cannot imagine the nerve it must take to be all alone on those waters, to stare into the dark of night and not be afraid. That is true courage, something we might all look within and see how we measure up. I know I couldn’t do it.

But I take the position that she was too young and lacked the necessary experience to tackle this challenge. My assumption is that she never had to deal with the sorts of conditions that eventually got the best of her. She was not prepared to handle the multitude of worst-case scenarios that one could envision for an around-the-world trip. How could she? She’s only 16! She wasn’t ready. She lacked the education, experience, and training that it takes to confidently embark on such a journey.

We see the same thing in so many leadership settings and business case studies today. Young, hard charging warriors get in way over their head, take on too much risk, over-estimate their ability to deal with crisis, and get too far out on the ledge. It would all be good and make for great case studies if it weren’t for the fact that they take too many people, jobs, and once promising companies with them. Like the young Abby Sunderland, they aren’t ready.

Young people today are hungry. They want to be the CEO now. Good for them. But, like responsible parents, we have to make them ready for increased responsibility. We have to ensure they can handle the job. We need to give them the skills and tools that increase their muscle density such that they can eventually reach for the heights which they seek. We need to encourage them to keep growing, to keep pursuing increasingly higher goals. But we should do so with an understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. Prepare them to be bold but have the courage to say, “No…you’re not ready.”

Leaders are responsible for preparing people to accomplish their mission. It is such an important responsibility that I made it Part II in my soon to be published book (yea!). We have to provide our teammates the resources they need to be adequately prepared, especially training. We have to equip them with the decision-making that only comes from multiple repetitions of making decisions. That’s MULTIPLE…as in A LOT! We have to increase their duties and tasks consistent with their demonstrated capacity. Have them sail across one ocean and back before tackling the globe. Practice dealing with smaller crises before getting into life and death situations. It’s our job to give them feedback such that they know when they are ready…and when they are not.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe some of you will comment that she was doing what we need more of in life – bold, audacious risk takers. Perhaps your opinion is that we should focus more on the fact that she tried than that she failed. Maybe little Abby was ready, some of you might say, and she simply had some bad luck. But if you accept the definition of luck as “the intersection of opportunity and preparation,” then perhaps you might agree with me that she wasn’t prepared. And her leaders (in this case, her parents) weren’t there to tell her “NO” – or better still, “NOT YET!”

Like I was in that yoga class, young Abby stretched perhaps just a little further than she was capable of. I’m glad she is okay. And me…I’m going to the doctor on Wednesday. He’ll tell me – I wasn’t ready. Not yet. That’s Leader Business.


Aridog said...

Sir, we've met. You will forgive me if I say I have great difficulty imagining you in a Yoga class. Not that you aren't self assured enough to manage anything you choose, it's just that you are a rather large muscular man. Fit as a fiddle and it's still a hard image to grasp.

That said, I think you analysis of the Sunderland sailing adventure is about the best I've read. Not only was she not truly prepared, the only purpose was her "age" in the adventure...something that has been done before by slightly older people. It's neither creative nor cutting edge when your only objective is age based.

Tom Magness said...

Great point, Aridog! Except about the "fit as a fiddle!" I'm feeling more like one of those upright base guitar-things right now with this back! Ugh!

Thanks for stopping by, my friend!


Aridog said...

Understand about the back. Just promise you'll not post any images of you in leotards and other Yoga gear, okay? I'm all out of detergent eye drops.

Don't recall how I stumbled upon your blog, but I'm glad I did. I've used your name in vain (without actually citing your real name) multiple times to illustrate what I think a leader should be. Number one among those attributes is the ability to listen as well as direct...and not make everything personal.

Take care in Afghaniland.

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