Rain, Seagulls, and Leadership [Mentorship] - A Cyber Fellow

track with clam shells

As I stepped out of my hotel room, my mind was on something else.  The door closed and I found myself without my key.  I looked to my left and, fortunately, the room attendant had just finished the neighboring room.  Having seen me come to my keyless realization she let me back in.  I recovered my key and thanked her.  As I walked away she noticed my running attire and let me know it was raining outside.  I had demonstrated a lack of readiness but this time I was prepared.  I quickly retorted, “I know, it’ll be fun!”

When I reached the door to head outside, sure enough, it was down pouring.  I started up my run tracking application and stepped outside in full stride.  The drops were large and the puddles and resulting streams of water were everywhere.  As I ran, several cars passed.  Each had the opportunity to immediately drench me, but each one veered away to prevent doing so.  As I passed a lone individual while crossing the bridge I noticed it was high tide.  I continued running toward a nearby track.

The track is just under a mile away from my hotel; perfect to supplement my planned running distance.  I stepped on the track and stuck to the outside to maximize my distance of each lap.  As I entered the first turn I nearly stepped on a freshly opened clam shell.  Having been on the track the day before, I didn’t recall any shells.  As I looked up, the source of the shell became apparent.

There, at the end of the field, were nine seagulls nuzzled into themselves enduring the rain.  A simple seafarers deduction is that the gulls, sometime in the last six hours during low tide, enjoyed their version of a clam feed.  Having captured the clams and dropped them on the track, the gulls forced their opening, gaining access to the deliciousness within.  Sure enough, as I rounded the corner of the track, more and more shells and fragments appeared.  After a couple laps, each time observing the distribution of pieces, I turned off the track to head back to the hotel.

With less than a mile to go, I set my finishing pace.  The rain continued but until I felt the water pouring into my left shoe, had I realized the puddles and streams had become much larger.  Before I could adjust to this realization, my right foot found its way into a strong flow of water, which immediately flooded my right shoe.

Continuing, I turned and stepped back onto the bridge.  As I surveyed the remaining distance I noted a pair of runners and another individual trailing them.  As I moved to the right to make room for the paired runners, they hadn’t noticed me.  At ten feet apart the closest runner to me finally looked up and adjusted to a position behind the other to allow all of us to pass safely.  Halfway down the bridge a local shuttle passed, its driver waved and I returned the gesture with a smile and wave.

Most people would take all of these interactions at face value.  I’d like to share what I took away having just focused on leadership for the past two weeks.

As the leader of your organization, the rain signifies what holds you back from knowing your organization and, most importantly, its people.  It might be remaining in your office behind your desk on a challenging day.  It may come in the form of an overwhelming amount of email, a chocked schedule, or insurmountable pile of paperwork.  The most subversive adversary is that very comfortable chair and your apparent ability to exercise leadershp and command through digital means.  For this reason, to improve my perspective and ability, I have stepped outside to run, consecutively for more than the last month.  I’ve run through all weather and illness, to know what is going on.  The first stride is the hardest, but it is always the most rewarding.

The several drivers who passed me signify and demonstrated compassion.  Without action on their part, they would have driven straight through the large streams of water, drenching me, without regard or concern.  This action, early in my run, had a positive influence on my outlook.  Their action kept me dry and allowed me to continue achieving my goal.

The clam shells signify the operations of your organization.  Your people carry out amazing tasks all day everyday; just because you don’t see them performing the tasks does not mean they are not occurring.  It is you duty to learn from your people, understand what they do and are capable of accomplishing, and balance the strengths and weaknesses of the organization in order to meet its mission and accomplish its vision.  If you don’t invest time to understand the operations of your organization, the decisions you make will be influenced by this lack of understanding, and it will erode the confidence and trust your people have in you.

The seagulls signify the people within your organization.  Do you know they exist?  How are they doing? What about their family? Are they cold and stuck out in the rain?  Are they fed and cared for?  Do you understand what they are going through?  Knowing your people is no easy task.  Each individual is different and has distinct metrics toward trust.  Once you have earned their trust you will be able to find their goals and intentions for their future.  This will enable you to integrate their goals and their wellbeing into the vision and daily operations of the organization.  This will maximize the effectiveness of both your people and organization.

My soaked shoes; the first one demonstrates a mistake, the second a failure.  Leading takes effort every step of the way.  It allows for the missteps of humans but not the failure of the leader or the leadership.  When my first shoe flooded with water I had not recognized the change in the operating conditions.  I had been late acknowledging the transition.  This, dear leader, is where you must invest time and energy.  The ability to recognize transition, understand it, and maximize effectiveness through it is the key to great leadership.  I had missed the beginning of a transition, and as a consequence, my left foot was cold and wet.  What I did next set the path for failure.

I told myself it wasn’t a big deal; I only had three quarters of a mile remaining to run.  After all, I had run this route daily for the past two weeks, I was comfortable and confident I could reach the end with one wet foot.  By not immediately focusing on preventing this from happening again, I allowed it to recur.

As the toes of my right foot, one by one, felt the water rush in a feeling of cold rushed over my body.  My failure was now affecting more than just my feet.  My hands grew colder responding to my other extremities condition.  My mood soured after each squishy water soaked step.  As leaders, each decision will have an effect on your organization.  You will not understand every ramification, it second and third order effects, on your organization.  You will also not be able to make every decision, nor should you.  There will be plenty of opportunities to review others’ decisions, I assure you.

The runner adjusting just in time demonstrates the perspective of each individual.  The oncoming runner wasn’t physically concerned about anything further than ten feet in front of them.  Balanced difference is exactly how you want the perspective throughout your organization.  Each individual uses their particular perspective to focus on their part of the mission; their part of the critical path.  Too much of either “near” or “far” perspective will unbalance the organization leading to oversights or micromanagement.

Lastly, the shuttle driver indicates the importance of positive interactions.  Even on a cold, pouring down rain, two soaked feet type day, a wave and a smile will let those around you know you are having fun!