A Straight Course to Achieve Vision?

One of the duties of a leader is to establish the vision and then drive the organization to achieve it.  When talking with other leaders, the example of a captain setting the course of a ship is typically used.  We often get into a discussion asking if we are captain of a naval vessel setting a direct course or captain of a sailing vessel setting a variety of courses dictated by the wind.

The argument generally has the naval captain setting the most direct course  arriving sooner. The flip side of the argument is as long as the sailing vessel is heading in the right direction, it is getting closer and closer to the objective, and if the winds are just right, the course will be direct.

I think we are more like a sailing vessel than a naval vessel.  In an America’s Cup Race, the captain may set the objective but it takes statisticians, weathermen, navigators and tacticians to determine the exact course for each leg of the race.  It also takes a committed crew to execute the vision. As leaders, we are responsible for putting into place a process to set the vision. We require the engagement of our organization to determine how each individual will execute tactics to achieve the vision.

What happens when the direct course is set without engaging the stakeholders?  Sometimes disaster strikes.  Consider the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  She left port in calm weather with a full load of taconite. Taconite can easily soak up water becoming heavier and heavier.  Her hatches were closed but not secured. As the Edmund Fitzgerald reached rough waters, waves began to wash over the decks seeping  into the holds.  On board water was not noticed because it was absorbed by the taconite.  The ship lost buoyancy and when hit by a large wave was sent directly to the bottom. The crew was not engaged and no one took the initiative to secure the hatches.

Are you the captain of the Edmund Fitzgerald or a sailing vessel? Your call.

The direct course is often set without due consideration for all the surpises that lay ahead. Here is an example I recently found on YouTube:

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