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Work Life Lead: The Horizon of Leadership

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Out there, in the not-too-distant future, is a world that is unknown to us. It is different because the world has changed so dramatically in such a short period of time that we are guessing what tomorrow will be like.

As leaders, the choice we make is to both simple and complex. Simple in that we can either embrace the unknown or shrink back in fear hoping that we can avoid having to deal with what is accelerating toward us. It is complex because the future requires us to be different tomorrow than we are today.  Becoming different is always  in reflection upon the past, when we need is to look forward and imagine what we must be like in a world that is just now emerging.

What is it like to lead when the future is unknown?

On the one hand it is like a great adventure. On the other, it is tiring and demanding everything from us.

A decade ago I began to realize that what we are experiencing is not new. It is old, but just not a recent experience.

We are experiencing what every person, family, tribe or nation experienced as it ventured into new and strange lands to find opportunity to build a sustainable society.  In this sense, we are becoming more like nomads, traveling from one oasis to the next, trying to maintain a cohesiveness that holds society together. There are places in our world where people are still nomads traveling in search of grass lands to feed their livestock, and water to nourish their families and crops.

The contemporary nomadic experience is not the same today as it was for the tribes who have wandered unknown wastelands for thousands of years. Today, the unknown is more a product of change, and the diminution of the secure institutional structures built by our ancestors over the past several hundred years.

The horizon of leadership is no longer simply the establishment of a sustainable, efficient operating structure. Today, the horizon is whether we can equip people to lead together. As a result, we walk into the future toward the horizon together.

Past generations have been there before. For me, the example of the Lewis & Clark expedition is a model for the 21st century organization. Here a collection of military soldiers, a male slave, an adolescent native girl, and some trappers formed a team that ventured into the unknown to discover the future of the United States.  Lemhi Dawn 12 9-16-04

This expedition organization faced overwhelming dangers and odds. The path to the Pacific Coast was unknown to Western European people. They depended upon their skills of teamwork, ability to communicate across cultural barriers, and the collaborative leadership of Lewis & Clark, and a good bite of luck to get through and return home.

Today, we face an uncertain road forward.  The horizon of leadership resides in our relationships. Whether we are leading an expedition into the unknown wilderness of 19th century western United States or leading a business whose industry has an unknown future, the key is learning how to marshal the talent and heart of people to give them a vision that grows into the future.

The Great Unknowns that I identified in Lewis & Clark’s story …

1. Where am I going?

2. What will I achieve?

3. What do I need?

4. Am I ready?

5. Who will go with me?

6. Can I find partners?

7. Can I make it through?

8. What is the right thing to do?

remain with us today.

What is the horizon for your leadership? Is it your confidence, your skills set, your position, your platform, or your purpose?

Wherever your future takes you, it begins with the first step. Lewis & Clark spent over a year preparing themselves and the Corps of Discovery to venture forth. That time of preparation proved to be of critical importance as they faced the unknown.

What preparation do you need to venture forth into the unknown? Start with one thing, and then build upon it. As you do, you’ll find the path forward will become clear and the horizon which seems so close will recede farther and father into the future.

Proceed on… and discover the future that awaits.

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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Posted in General Leadership, Leadership Q + A, Work Life Lead.

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