Lead Like A Compass

Let me start with a simple one-liner leadership definition that always came in handy for me:

“Leaders show the right direction and engage others to follow.”

Herein, “Showing the right direction” is the competence part of leadership. It represents the foresight and required insight to create a vision. More importantly, it also encompasses the ability to translate the vision into a desirable picture, broken down into understandable and achievable objectives or milestones. “Engaging others to follow” is the character part of leadership. It requires leaders to build trust and great teams, develop talents, and lead by example while being able to follow others when needed. Whenever high Competence and solid Character are combined in a leader, the foundation for building trust is laid. Without trust, no followers – and without followers, no leader.

So why picturing leaders with an old-fashioned tool like a compass, especially in comparison to a modern navigation system?

Well, the question holds already the first answer. In our ever faster changing world with daily off-springs of new leadership concepts and metaphors, it is important to hold onto old-fashioned values and principles. To me, it is no coincidence that we see a renaissance of traditional teachings of Buddha, Loa Tzu and the likes in recent leadership literature. Like a compass always follows true north, every leader should follow a set of unchangeable personal values. You can only be true to yourself if you know who you truly are, manifested in core values. Consciously living by those values supports to truly lead by example. It also ensures that your thoughts, words and actions are in constant alignment – which is, not only according to Buddha and Ghandi, the recipe for inner peace and happiness. Likewise, every leadership team should have a set of aligned principles, based on which the group or company is guided, and transparent decisions are made. Principle-based leaders stay true to themselves – and true to others.

A second intriguing characteristic of the compass metaphor lies in the fact that a compass shows people merely the direction. It is up to the person(s) to walk through the valley or over the hill, to take the path on the right or on the left, as long as they stay on the directed course. A navigation system on the other hand, pre-empts every decision – and can turn quite irritating when you make the mistake of not following instructions accordingly. Good leaders allow making a mistake and are there to lift up people, encouraging and helping them to make it better next time.

Thirdly, a compass gives on demand guidance when help is needed to get back on track. The navigation system in comparison constantly interferes in a way that could be even distracting from staying on track. In that sense, the best leaders are the ones who are hardly recognized being around.

Last but not least, a compass is less “knowledgeable” than an information packed navigation system. A leader doesn’t have to know everything. In fact, studies have shown that extremely smart and omni-knowledgeable people have additional challenges in becoming a great leader since IQ and EQ don’t run in harmony. This leads to close with a related quote from John C. Maxwell: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Thus, a leader directs and engages by being a trusted empowering compass rather than an interfering micromanaging navigation system.


© ATvisor™; Picture Source: w-dog.net