Tom GibbonsLeadershipLeave a Comment

Yes it’s an e-newsletter from TMS Americas! Here’s why. Did you know there are Network Members that coach Presidents and Vice Presidents of leading organizations around the world? Or that there are Network Members doing experiential leadership learning in kayaks, out in the wilderness or on mountains? That the Team Management Profile has been used on expeditions to the North and South Poles? Or that we hear from Network Members all the time about doing organizational development work or using TMS instruments in unique and exciting ways? We want to share these experiences as well as our own, so the stories of our incredible Network Members can be shared with others and put to good use. 

In March of this year we had the opportunity to go to a Network Member meeting in London, UK, sponsored by our sister office TMSDI. The keynote speaker was Sean Chapple. Still sporting the healing brown patches of frost bite on his cheeks, Sean spoke to the group about his expeditions to both the North and South pole and the lessons learned about leadership, planning, competition and collaboration as well as the countless other life lessons that come with a 700km overland trek to the South Pole. You can explore Sean’s web site more from the link below but one of the stories that caught our attention was the group’s approach to shifting leadership and what happened when one member of the team was struggling to keep up, was fighting fatigue or was simply having a tough time.
While there was no doubt that Sean was the leader of the expedition, it was not uncommon for leadership to shift to others in the group who had more leadership capacity to lead based on the situation being faced at the time.While this concept is not particularly new, you do not see it actually happen too often in organizational life. The hero archetype is still the leadership model that carries the day and we do not face many clear situations indicating thatothers should take the lead.

In fact it is often considered a sign of weakness to let others take the lead. Sean described situations where a team member, perhaps even himself, might be facing fatigue or injury but the group needed to travel a certain distance in order to ensure adequate supplies to last the trip. There was just no ‘suck it up and get on with it’ possible when your legs would not move you anymore so another team member might carry their pack or even pull their team member along on their sled in order to complete the distance needed.

For all individuals (but perhaps males in particular) who have learned leadership through the military metaphor, this might not have been an easy thing to do, but it did produce the needed results. The hero could step aside for a different leadership model to step forward, one we’re not too sure how to label yet.
An added dimension to this story was that prior to going to the UK we were working with another Network Member, Liz Hafer, from Colorado who also engages in experiential learning. In one of her workbooks Liz talks of Leadershifting and uses this team tip:
Team Tip
Myth: The Team is only as fast as its weakest link
How many times have we heard this expression?  Do you agree?  If you answered yes, consider the following.  Your Adventure Racing Team is climbing a steep trail and one of your teammates is struggling to keep up with the rest of the team.  Do you all slow down to the pace of this individual?  That seems like the best thing to do to keep the prssure off your teammate and keep the team together.  But what if you said to the struggling teammate, ‘Can I carry your backpack’?  What has this gesture just accomplished?  By taking the load off your teammate, they can move a bit faster!  So, is your team really only as fast as the weakest link?
It was really kind of neat to hear these two similar stories from either side of the Atlantic Ocean being told to us just days apart.
It is not easy to Leadershift, to step aside, or ‘surrender’ your leadership position. It requires a different confidence than the hero leader that is typically event focused. It requires a long term perspective and one that makes room for the hero leader to exist alongside other types and archetypes of leadership – in other words a focus on what might be called ‘process leadership’. 
Hopefully it also isn’t mandatory to take a trip to the South Pole to develop and sustain this type of leadership (even if it is a very cool thing to do)! We need lots of different leadership models for our very complex organizations and world. 
Want to explore further?
Sean Chappel:                        http://www.seanchapple.co.uk/
Liz Hafer:                                 www.corporateteams.com
The TMS office in the UK:       www.tmsdi.co.uk

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