How can leaders powerfully drive home essential principles and values without seeming pedantic?
I’ve had teams leave meetings early to participate in community service. Yes, six people left 30 minutes early to go feed the homeless. Couldn’t they wait? Yes. Couldn’t we schedule community service on another day? Yes.
I’ve had teams disrupt meetings by arriving late after engaging in community service. Was it necessary? No. But it was more powerful than words.
Communicate values with symbolic acts. Is it more effective to say we believe in community service, or to let people see we believe in community service?
In, “Leading at the Edge,” Dennis N.T. Perkins tells the story of Captain Ernest Shackleton’s failed Antarctic expedition that began December 5, 1914. They lost their ship, the Endurance, October 27, 1915, but saved themselves on May 10, 1916. I love the story.
The Second Factor
Perkins identifies 10 critical factors that enable extraordinary success during extreme adversity. The second critical leadership factor is, “Set a personal example with visible, memorable symbols and behaviors.”
Shackleton knew survival was a tension between speed and weight. “He himself set the example, throwing away, with a spectacular gesture, a gold watch, a gold cigarette case and several golden sovereigns.” Perkins continues, “In this dramatic gesture, Shackleton personally demonstrated that only items that had value in terms of survival were important.”
Shackleton’s symbolic gesture also demonstrated, “I’m one with.” Throughout the journey, he bore the weight of leadership without personal perks or exemptions. In truth, Shackleton frequently assigned the toughest duties to himself.
If you’re wondering, the first critical factor Perkins lists is, “Never lose sight of the ultimate goal, and focus energy on short-term objectives."
What symbolic gestures do you or your organization employ?
What other critical leadership factors enable extraordinary success in extreme conditions?