Many of the leaders I know do their best to make good plans, use the resources they have and manage potential risks. And for the most part, they get along just fine – sales are made, customers remain loyal and net income continues to grow. What happens, though, when things don’t go according to plan and the unexpected occurs? Do they have the skills they need to overcome the challenges they are facing?
Highly effective leaders are able to step back when faced with unexpected challenges. They view the world with an open mind and often see opportunities others miss. They look around to see what resources are available and then skillfully maximize those resources to overcome the challenges before them.
These are the leadership skills Boy Scouts acquire when they earn their Wilderness Survival Merit Badge. As defined in the Merit Badge handbook, wilderness survival is “taking care of ourselves [in the outdoors] in ways that allow us to come home safely.”
As a former Scoutmaster, I know that even with the best preparation and planning, the unexpected can happen during any outdoor activity – losing your way, encountering a surprise storm and incurring an injury are prime examples.
Let’s assume you’re on a backpacking journey. You’ve lost your way and have become separated from your group. Night is falling, rain is in the forecast and you're feeling alone. You have enough food and water to sustain you for the next 24 hours. Because this was supposed to be a day hike, you have neither a tent nor a sleeping bag. With an expected night time temperature in the low 40’s, you need to find a way to keep warm and dry. What do you do?
You step back. You look around (assume your surroundings are similar to those pictured, below). What do you see? A forest? A fallen tree? Some dead branches? Leaves on the ground? And not much else, right?
Now look again. Everything you need to stay warm and dry – and maybe even found – is right in front of you. There are materials for building a fire (e.g., the inner bark of dead branches, twigs and downed wood) and a shelter (e.g., a level surface, a fallen tree, leafy branches and dry leaves). With the right skills and an open mind, things that seemingly held little or no value to you before suddenly take on new meaning. They become essential resources in your quest for survival and success.
If your organization has lost its way in the wilderness of lower than expected sales, an increasingly high customer defection rate and disappointing financial results, step back and take a fresh look around. Look carefully for the opportunities others are missing. The resources you need to find your way home safely may be the people who are right in front of you. You won't know until you look.
For more insights on effective leadership, see:
• Drive Breakthrough Performance with Decisive Leadership
• How the Best Leaders Inspire Others
• How Business Storytelling Helps Leaders Communicate Their Vision