Thursday, 15 March 2007

Law of Navigation: Anyone Can Steer the Ship, But It Takes a Leader to Chart the Course

From the Book "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" by John Maxwell, the story that depict this law is what I remember the most and it really hit me hard. It brings me to think about my responsibilities of planning for the team. And planning is not just putting all the activities down and saying who do what, it is making sure everything is alright and meeting the objectives/end result (sometimes not only short-term, but long-term). It is really a tough job. There is also no clear measurement on this whether you have done well or not, whether you have lead well. Wrong decisions and mistakes cost the lost of money, and energy and it affects the morale of the people.

For myself, I think there are still a lot of rooms for me to improve. And so is everybody else. Being able to get the total high level picture and drilling to details, making sure everything is covered, thought through , no loopholes, no misunderstanding, no mistakes - all these require gigantic efforts. A lot of people tends to seek the easy way out . Also a lot of people procrastinate on the plan or do not plan at all.

Doing the right things and doing things right!

Here is the story...(if you like this, do buy the book)

Two groups set off to reach the south pole, Norwegian Roald Amundsen and British Robert Scott.

Amundsen painstakingly planned his trip. He studied the methods of the Eskimos and other experienced Arctic travelers and determined that their best course of action would be to transport all their equipment and supplies by dogsled. When he assembled his team, he chose expert skiers and dog handlers. His strategy was simple. The dogs would do most of the work as the group traveled 15-20 miles in a 6-hour period each day. That would allow both the dogs and the men plenty of time to rest each day for the following day's travel.

Amundsen's forethought and attention to detail were incredible. He located and stocked supply depots all along the route. That way they would not have to carry every bit of their supplies with them the whole trip. He also equipped his people with the best gear possible. Amundsen had carefully considered every possible aspect of the journey, thought it through, and planned accordingly. And it paid off. The worst problem they experienced on the trip was an infected tooth that one man had to have extracted.

The other team of men was led by Robert Falcon Scott, a British navel officer who had previously done some exploring in the Antarctic area. Scott's expedition was the antithesis of Amundsen's. Instead of using dogsleds, Scott decided to use motorized sledges and ponies. Their problems began when the moters on the sledges stopped working only 5 days into the trip. The ponies didn't fare well either in those frigid temperatures. When they reached the foot of the Transantarctic Mountains, all of the poor animals had to be killed. As a result, the team members themselves ended up hauling the 200 pound sledges. It was arduous work.

Scott hadn't given enough attention to the team's other equipment. Their clothes were so poorly designed that all the men developed frostbite. One team member required an hour every morning just to get his boots onto his swollen gangrenous feet. And everyone became snowblind because of the inadequate googles Scott had supplied. One top of everything else, the team was always low on food and water. That was also due to Scott's poor planning. The depots of supplies Scott established were inadequately stocked, too far apart, and often poorly marked, which made them very difficult to find. Because they were continually low on fuel to melt snow, everyone became dehydrated. Making things worse was Scott's last-minute decision to take along a fifth man, even though they had prepared enough supplies only for four.

After covering a grueling eight hundred miles in 10 weeks, Scott's exhausted group finally arrived at the South Pole on January 17, 1912. There they found the Norwegian flag flapping in the wind and a letter from Amundsen. The other well-led team had beaten them to their goal by more than a month!

As bad as their trip to the Pole was, that isn't the worst part of their story. The trek back was horrific. Scott and his men were starving and suffering from scurvy. But Scott, unable to navigate to the very end, was oblivious to their plight. With time running out and desperately low on food, Scott insisted that they collect thirty pounds of geological specimens to take back--more weight to be carried by the wornout men.

Their progress became slower and slower. One member of the party sank into a stupor and died. Another, Lawrence Oates, was in terrible shape. The former army officer, who had originally been brought along to take care of the ponies, had frostbite so severe that he had trouble going on. Because he believed he was endangering the team's survival, it's said that he purposely walked out into a blizzard to relieve the group of himself as a liability. Before he left the tent and headed out into the storm, he said, "I am just going outside; I may be some time."

Scott and his final 2 team members made it only a little farter north before giving up. The return trip had already taken 2 months, and still they were 150 miles from their base camp. There they died. We kno w their story only because they spent their last hours writing in their diaries. Some of Scott's last words were these: "We shall die like gentlemen. I think this will show that the Spirit of pluck and power to endure has not passed out of our race."

Followers need leaders able to effectively navigate for them. When they're facing lfe and death situations, the necessity is painfully obvious. But, even when consequences aren't as serious, the need is just as great. The truth is that nearly anyone can steer the ship, but it takes aleader to chart the course. That is the Law of Navigation.

The fact remains that Amundsen's party had better equipment, better clothing, had a clearer recognition of the primary task, understood dogs and their handling, used ski effectively, pioneered an entirely new route to the Pole and they returned.

In Amundsen's own words:
"I may say that this is the greatest factor -- the way in which the expedition is equipped -- the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order -- luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck."

--from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen.

Lastly, Anyone Can Steer the Ship, But It Takes a Leader to Chart the Course!!!!

So, put your heart and soul to chart the course for your team.

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