Monday, February 18, 2013

Leaders: Don't Become Captain Edward Smith

Many leaders choose to execute their original visions at all costs; even to the detriment of the organization. The normal way to lead is to stay the course at all costs. However, a true leader is able and willing to adjust in real-time, especially when the environment around them changes.

On April 10, 1912, the Titanic, the largest ship ever built, departed from Southampton, England on her maiden voyage to New York City. There was no expense spared when this ship was decked out from bow to stern. A legend even before she sailed, her passengers were a mixture of the world's wealthiest.

The Titanic was touted as the safest ship ever built, so safe that she carried only 20 lifeboats - enough to provide accommodation for only half her 2,200 passengers and crew. There would be no need for lifeboats, because this ship was unsinkable.

Four days into the maiden voyage the ship struck an iceberg, and the rest is history. One day before the fatal collision, Captain Edward John Smith had been warned of the dangerous field of icebergs ahead, but he refused to change course. He had a plan and vision of sailing this massive ship all the way to New York and he was not going to be bothered by some silly iceberg. After all, the Titanic was unsinkable.

Why don't leaders today take notice of the leaders of yesterday? A leader cannot simply blaze a new trail with no regard for anything happening around them. Don't be normal. Don't fall into the trap of "your way or the highway." A good leader not only knows how to adapt, but is willing to make the necessary changes to facilitate the adaptation.

Don't let your business or organization become the titanic and don't start channelling your inner-Captain Smith. Be different.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What We Can Learn From The Pope

Pope Benedict stunned the Roman Catholic Church this week when he announced he would step down, the first pope to do so in over 600 years. The Pope said he no longer had the mental or physical strength to carry on. His announcement produced some uncertainty for the Roman Catholic Church, but that's not necessarily a bad thing and change isn't always bad.

History Lesson: The last pope to resign willingly was Celestine V in 1294 after reigning for only five months, his resignation was known as "the great refusal" and was condemned by the poet Dante in the "Divine Comedy". Gregory XII reluctantly abdicated in 1415 to end a dispute with a rival claimant to the papacy.

The point is, the pope doesn't retire. Even though a reported 1.2 billion people around the world are counting on the leadership of Pope Benedict, he chose to step aside because he had already done what he believed he could and was not comfortable going forward. A pope at anything less than 100% would not suit Benedict. He was great friends with the pope before him, Pope John Paul. At the end, John Paul was clearly unable to perform the duties of any profession, let alone being the pope. Benedict wasn't going to let that become his legacy.

Can we learn something for that? It's easy for me to say as a guy who is in the early stages of life and his career, but I think we can learn from the pope's decision. If we can't step aside and let a new generation take up the torch, the flame will die. Knowing when to pass the torch is probably one of the more challenging issues in life.

Pope Benedict may not be known as the people's choice or most iconic Pope, but he will always be remembered as the guy who recognized he couldn't give the job what it demanded and he took the exit at stage right. By doing so, he redefined normal and challenged the status quo.