It is the Monday after Thanksgiving as I write this. As you may know, I am called upon to tell the First Thanksgiving story dozens of times during this season every year. This is not only because my academic field is American history but also because I love the Pilgrim tale and revel in recounting it in all its gritty, humorous, inspiring detail.
One theme in this tale that moved forefront for me this year is how much maintenance the Pilgrims and their ship’s crew had to do on the Mayflowerwhile she was crossing the Atlantic. Boards had to be braced. Sails had to be repaired. When the main beam famously cracked mid-ocean, it had to be pressed back into place by a huge “screw,” a construction device used for building houses.
As I pondered these details, they reminded me of what I often urge leaders to do. Most leaders fail to make needed repairs while underway. They are moving too fast, too intent upon the big picture or the future. They assume the future will take care of present details so they don’t make the repairs necessary for a successful journey.
One executive I worked with put up with two staffers who constantly undermined her with their words, their jokes, even their rolling eyes at critical moments. The executive never dealt with this—never repaired it. Dissent spread. Disillusionment set in. That firm doesn’t exist now.
I worked with another executive whose wife harbored bitterness towards him and so delighted in going to lunch with company employees to let them know that the CEO was not all he was cracked up to be. Many a lunch turned into a seminar on the failings of the lead guy. The executive never put a stop to this. Now, his marriage is over. He was released from his firm. He’s had to fight to save his reputation and career. It would have been easier to make the needed repair long ago.
A third leader I coached was frustrated because he could not understand the accounting reports he got each month. He finally stopped paying attention to them. When I started working with him, I reminded him that he was the boss, that accounting reports were essential information for him, and that he had to pay whatever price to get the information he needed to run the firm. He heard me and when he started insisting on reports he could understand, he discovered fraud in the accounting department that could have destroyed the company. He quickly, though painfully, set things right.
Here is the big lesson: It is an art of leadership to keep short accounts. It is an art of leadership to insist upon repairs that allow the ship to reach its destination. Distraction from this is mere laziness. Seeing only the big picture and not the needed immediate repairs is pride—and folly.
We are in the last month of the year and it is a good time for you to survey both your leadership and all you lead. What repairs are needed? What have you been enduring to your loss? Are you running from needed changes? What has hampered you in the previous 11 months of 2016? Repair whatever you must to make 2017 your best year yet. There’s time. This is what great leaders do.
That’s it. Have a good weekend. And let’s just let the Notre Dame season come to a quiet end. Much repair needed there, too!
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