Where Are We Going and How Do We Get There? Adaptive Leadership, Part 2

This is the second in a series of blogs on adaptive leadership.

It is my belief that foundational leadership principles give leaders the ability to build teams capable of handling whatever might come their way. This series is based around what we at Level Five Associates have as one of our foundations: “The Big Six.”

The Big Six are the result of years of personal experience and observation of what make great teams work.

Part of what we consider so important about The Big Six Leadership Principles® is a belief that these concepts are, essentially, universal and unchangeable.

The underlying principles are always the same, giving us as leaders a foundation to build resilient teams.

At times, we may simply need to find more ways to adapt to applying them to a changing environment, and adaptation is what this series is about.

Where Are We Going and How Do We Get There? Setting The Azimuth

The first of the Big 6 Principles we’ll discuss in the context of adaptive leadership is Set Your Azimuth.

Indeed, perhaps now more than ever, your team can use your azimuth as a constantly available reminder of where you want your company or organization to go, to accomplish.

Put simply, setting the azimuth for your company means having a direction you plan to aim your team towards — and making sure everyone on the team knows about it. 'Setting the Azimuth' will give your organization a sense of direction it can rely on in uncertain times.

In the adaptive leadership world that we’re in now, I would encourage you, along with your team, to work through several questions.

What is our azimuth?

The answer is based on further questions:

    • What is our mission (Who are we? What do we do? Why do we do it?)
    • What is our intent? Based on that mission, what is the leader’s intent?
    • What end state are we working toward?

Although it may be a shorter term than we’ve talked about before (perhaps six months instead of 2-3 years), you need to establish the end state you’re moving toward, and then determine the key tasks you have to accomplish to make that end state a reality. I would encourage you to do the above review of the azimuth with your team in a participatory framework.

Another way to look at it — here are four components to the azimuth: mission, intent, values, and culture. Within the mission, the intent captures our key tasks and the purpose for each one. Our beliefs comprise the values. What do we believe in as a team, as an organization? And in our culture—are there behaviors that we expect everybody to represent? Mission, intent, values, and culture—all four together equal your azimuth. Given the world we’re in now, I suggest that you set or reset your azimuth as first among equals here in the Big Six.

You might have to change your mission statement. If you think of Sir Ernest Shackleton, and if you look at the Shackleton Expedition, you’ll find someone who in 1915 sought to take a crew of 28 people, get on a ship, and go to Antarctica. Then he planned to cross the Antarctic continent, which is about the size of the United States, on foot. That was his mission.

The twenty-eight people on the HMS Endurance sailed toward Antarctica, but it didn’t take long before their ship got stuck in the ice, where it was slowly being crushed.

Shackleton had to change his mission. His objective changed from being the first to cross the Antarctic on foot to getting all of his men back to England alive. That was a fundamental change of mission.

“Well,” you’ll say, “that was a blinding flash of the obvious.” Nope, not really. He could have been so fixated on his initial mission that he stayed with it, despite the fact that the ship was being destroyed in the packed ice, and they could have all died as a result. Instead, a mission that was essentially a failure became a big success when he brought them all home. Shackleton was widely regarded as a great leader at that moment because he adapted his vision to the circumstance.

The key in setting or resetting your azimuth is to do it deliberately. Don’t just expect this to happen because you send out an email or you say it one time during a meeting. In fact, once you have your azimuth reset or initially set, I think it’s going to have to become the drumbeat of every session you have with your leadership team. There’s a rule in the Army, and in the corporate world, about conveying a message: if you want someone to really understand a message, you have to share it with him or her at least seven times. Not surprisingly, this is called the seven-times rule. Well, I think it’s more like 70! You need to share a message 70 times. (I’ve tried seven and it really doesn’t work!) You need to have your azimuth, the mission, the intent, the values, and the culture as the drumbeat of your organization.

Values As A Component of the Azimuth

Some people have asked me, “Well, Robert, what’s an example of values and how values relate to culture inside that azimuth?” Here’s one example. One of the beliefs, one of the values among many teams and organizations is the high premium put on respect, and respect in regard for others. You have to define the value in order for everybody to really understand it. What is a cultural behavior that would represent respect? One of my favorites is doing things on time. Does that indicate respect? I absolutely think it does.

When you value others’ time, you indicate that you respect them. You’ve taken a belief and translated it into action. Now everyone has to hold herself or himself accountable to that. I think you have to have that drumbeat as part of the way you do things—70 times, maybe even 700!

In a changing world, the more clarity concerning who we are and what we represent, the better off we’re going to be. Pure and simple. But this is not going to be easy. If it were easy, anybody could do it.

If you think about your own personal experience with teams, past and present, many of them no doubt operated through that body language interaction, that camaraderie that’s made us so powerful. Even the camaraderie among clusters of cubicles. We’re not able to replicate that in a distributed/hybrid (combination remote/in-office) environment.

It’s not easy to look at a screen and speak with people who’ve been reduced to an image and an audio signal without the level of body language we’re used to.  I think that setting and resetting your azimuth will be fundamentally important to helping bridge that gap between in-person interactions and virtual environments. Since we’re seeking to make virtual environments more like personal interactions, our success is going to be based on how intensely we pursue our main goal, how often we practice it, and how well it is communicated to our team members (whether they are in the office or not).

We have to ‘walk the talk’ in the way we behave to honor the current rules of engagement among people. In this current moment, that means respecting the current rules around social distancing and hygiene. Even as this article is being written, those rules are in flux as we appear to be slowly re-opening. But whether you are reading this piece today, one month from now, or five years from now, the concept of respect and the larger concept of values will always be a part of the overall concept of ‘setting the azimuth’ for your team.



This blog is based on my eBook “Who Saw This Coming?” You can get a free downloadable copy of the entire eBook here.

Enjoy the Journey!





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