Jun 01 2022| Values | Leadership | leaders

Off-the-map leadership

June Business Brief

by Phil Eyre Leaders Founder

In Phil’s latest article in Business Brief, he discusses how the world today - whether in business, government or society - desperately needs leaders who are off-the-map leaders. In other words, leaders who embrace the idea that the future cannot be predicted with a high degree of certainty. Leaders who enjoy the idea that uncertainty is the very condition that adds immense value to life and work.

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their ‘Corps of Discovery’ of 40 people set off to find the elusive and, as it turns out, mythical, river passage across America to the Pacific Ocean. Their story is one of team leadership at its utmost, packed with exemplary insight into enduring leadership qualities.

With thanks to Tod Bolsinger for coining the phrase in his book, Canoeing the Mountains, it is the off-the-map leadership quality that is particularly inspiring and needed today. Picture the scene: 

Lewis, Clark and their team had arrived at the source of the Missouri river after many months of arduous expedition. Received wisdom was that this would mark the peak mountain range, with a water passage flowing west to the Pacific Ocean. Discovery of this route would, it was believed, catalyse a new golden era of trade. As Lewis and Clark reached the source of the Missouri, canoes in hand, they were faced not with a sloping plain and rivers down towards the Pacific but with the ominous Rocky Mountains. Unexpected. Unsuitable for canoes. Unmapped. 

What would you do? The Corps of Discovery adapted and pressed on; their story is well worth a read. 

Here are three things that we can learn from them:

  • Off-the-map leaders are possessed by a grand idea, a vision and passion for a better future. This transcends detailed plans and is defined more in terms of impact than mechanics. An end to homelessness in our neighbourhood, equality of access to education and freedom of artistic expression are examples, albeit lofty ones. Businesses can - and must - have some sense of meaningful objective to motivate through the hurdles and pressures that will arise. Some of these might be anticipated, many will be a surprise.

We observe this quality in leaders who respond calmly to both successes and problems. They don’t react with drama. In fact, high-drama reactions will undermine team confidence. Leaders with a big idea have a constantpress-forward mindset. They celebrate successes for a moment and then move on. They commiserate failures for a moment and then move on.

What’s the point (purpose) of your business? If you’re not sure, your people will not follow you over the mountains. Are you living on the fumes of past successes or failures? If so, today is the day to put them behind you and move forward.

  • Off-the-map leaders are marked by a sense of adventure. They are desperate to learn and discover new ideas, curious and energised by the unexpected. Same old is demotivating and dull to them. What’s gone before might inform a decision, but familiar methods are not presumed to be the best approach. This takes a counter-cultural mindset. We tend to lean towards the familiar, we are biased towards what we know and struggle to conceive of things we’ve yet to experience. Good leaders overcome these initial instincts in favour of a more adventurous life. 

One practical way that we observe this at Leaders is the desire to invite unconventional perspectives when addressing challenges. Lewis and Clark certainly did this (read their story), yet too often we encounter the familiar-source fallacy when working with executive teams. They seek familiar ideas from familiar people. Instead, the best leaders put effort into seeking out unusual, potentially uncomfortable, sources of information and inspiration.

Are you wedded to conventional wisdom? Who is bringing fresh thinking to you and your company? 

  • Off-the-map leaders deeply value the relational capital in their teams. Lewis and Clark led as co-captains, despite different ranks being awarded to them. This set the tone for the whole Corps. They fostered and valued trusting relationships, respecting each other’s differences, offering individual strengths to the team and drawing on others to overcome individual weaknesses. High trust is a hallmark of high-performing teams. Individualistic ‘hero-CEO’ approaches cannot scale beyond the individual. Even the most brilliant individuals eventually create serious problems if they make the company all about them.

The best leaders give quality time to their people, not rushing, cancelling or squeezing in hasty conversations but truly valuing their relationships. How much are you investing in your team?

About The Author | Phil Eyre

Phil is Leaders’ founder. He has an enthusiastic and inspiring style, drawing on his experience in business, academia and social sectors to help any leadership team to achieve phenomenal performance. Phil has significant expertise in sophisticated psychometrics and in the application of human data for individual, team and organisational success. He has trained with and been mentored by, global leaders in this field, notably Dr Chuck Coker in the US. Phil began his career in the UK offshore finance industry in 1994, working for a wealth management company, Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil was head of the company's Guernsey division, with a staff of 120 and assets under management of £4.5billion before resigning from executive responsibilities in 2008. Since launching Leaders in 2017, Phil has worked with many senior executives and boards primarily in the Channel Islands and City of London. He regularly writes for a variety of business publications and is often invited to speak at events for institutions such as the IoD and the British Army. Phil works closely with clients on focussed projects and long-term retainers to raise leadership standards. He is a popular and inspiring educator and coach who, with the insights gained from psychometrics, is able to accurately detect the strengths and weaknesses in leadership teams and boards. Phil has served on the boards of various charities, ran the Guernsey hub of a national theology college, received accreditation as a pastor in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and is accredited in various motivation and behavioural techniques.

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