Leadership Law #4 – The Law of Navigation

Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.

Maxwell gives the classic example of the Law of Navigation that happened exactly 100 years ago –  the race to be the first to the South Pole.

Roald Amundsen led the first successful expedition to the South Pole, arriving there in December 1911. Amundsen was a navigator. He relentlessly planned his trip, studying the methods of Eskimos and other arctic travelers. He learned that the best way to execute the journey was to carry all their equipment and supplies by dog sled. He equipped his team with the best possible equipment.

Robert Falcon Scott, on the otherhand, was doomed to a heroic failure. With limited knowledge of the conditions and limited planning, he decided to use motorized sledges and ponies. The motors stopped working five days into the trip and the ponies could not make it beyond the foot of the Transantarctic mountains. The team members had to haul the 100kg sledges themselves. Scott didn’t “navigate” well through the other aspects of the expedition, either. The clothing was so poor that all of the team developed frostbite. They suffered from snow blindness from inadequate goggles. In addition, Scott made a last minute decision to bring along a fifth team member, though they had prepared supplies only for four.

Amundsen’s team arrived at the South Pole on 14 December 1911 and made it successfully back to base camp on 25 January 1912 and to Australia in March.

I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

— from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen

Scott’s team finally arrived at the Pole on 17 January 1912. Scott was still unable to navigate on the way back. He insisted on carrying back another 15kg of geological specimens. Two team members perished on the journey north. The progress got slower and slower: eventually Scott and his two surviving colleagues died, still 250km from their base camp.

Scott had plenty of heroic courage, but not leadership. His followers (team members) needed Scott to navigate for them.

Maxwell asserts that leaders who navigate do more than control the direction in which they and their team travel. They see the whole journey in their minds before they start. They know what is needed and what risks they might face and they can communicate a vision to their followers.

A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see and who sees before others do.

– Leroy Eims.

Make it a habit to reflect on your experiences and recognize the lessons from both success and failure. Do your homework, leaning on your previous experience as well as gathering information from experts and other people who might have useful experience and insights.


About Andrew Stewart

Andrew Stewart exists to serve by igniting potential. Husband. Dad. Leader. Cyclist. Friend.
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