Growing up I always had the vision of leadership most portrayed in the media and the movies. This was the leader who delivered pep talks, carried the banner, and led from the front. It was the team captain who screamed at everyone, the coach who kicked our butts, and the charismatic CEO who cleverly treated his players like pieces on the chess board.
Over the years, working with some amazing leaders from all sectors of business, the fire service, the special forces, and even athletics, a different type of exceptional leader is emerging. Recently, a young leader from Me to We (a fantastic Toronto based charity), Bissan Musa, shared a great view of leadership that he tries to employ and which encapsulated the great leaders I am currently seeing. This is the example of an Iditarod sled team.
In dog sled racing, the leader doesn’t run in front of his/her team, because they aren’t the fastest runner. They don’t pull the sled, because they aren’t the best puller on the team. Instead they do their job, which it turns out they are perfectly skilled and equipped to perform. They lead from the back.
The job of the leader of a sled team is to thoroughly understand the team’s strategy. This includes the destination they heading to, the route they will follow, and most important the best way to maximize the performance of each and every team member (and just to be clear, I am not comparing leadership teams to dogs in any form or fashion :)). When you look at the way the leader does this, it is very much a Tignum approach.
The Iditarod can not be won by running the team into the ground. The team must work together, coordinate their efforts, get along, and most important work hard to move in the direction the leader determines. The best leaders care deeply for their team and therefore invest deeply in each and every team member. They insure their nutrition is first grade to deliver all of the elements needed for sustained high performance. They constantly evaluate each member for their resilience and recovery state so they can thrive through the entire race and deliver a great performance on the final push, as well as for every push along the way. They keep the team’s mindset on track by preventing fighting, authentically showing support for each member, and by providing extreme clarity of the direction they need to go. This term authentic is extremely important because to dogs (and to humans by the way) a team leader can’t fake his/her true support for the team. It is consciously and unconsciously obvious by their actions.
When I look at some of the exceptional leaders we have recently worked with, I see the exact same characteristics. They purposefully develop their own Performance Mindset because they know it infects their team. They prepare themselves for their performances because they know that to be authentic it takes energy, sincerity, focus, presence, and trust. They understand that only by putting their people first will they actually finish first. They monitor the recovery of each member and they model oscillation strategies. They demonstrate the importance of regenerating their energy reserves to deliver their best, day in and day out.
This model of leadership where the leader realizes that running the team into the ground never serves anyone and never wins is emerging. For some leaders it may be counter intuitive but we are starting to see great examples and great results. The fact is, if you really want to make a difference and win, you have to invest in the Sustainable High Performance of your people and make them different. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.