Imagine the scenario.   It’s minus forty degrees and the wind is blowing straight into your face.  All you can see for miles around is whiteness and you have to trust that the person in front is skiing in the right direction as there are no landmarks to follow.   You have been skiing in these conditions for eight hours and you are exhausted, but there is still another hour to go before you stop for the day.   When faced with this situation – how can a leader inspire a team to keep going?

What really counts as a leader when striving to achieve tough goals

  • To have a genuine concern for others
  • To have integrity and openness
  • To empower, delegate and develop potential
  • To be decisive, determined and self-confident
  • To have a high level of self-awareness and manage relationships
  • To be accessible and approachable
  • To clarify boundaries and involve others in decisions

On my first expedition to the Magnetic North Pole, our leader used empowerment very effectively to motivate the team. Every day he gave the responsibility for leading the entire team to a different group of four people.    These groups consisted of one experienced adventurer and three novices.  On the first day Group A encouraged us all to ski at a fairly brisk pace and try to ensure that we could keep going at that pace for the entire day.  This strategy worked initially but by the middle of the afternoon it was clear that the pace had slowed down.   At the end of the day they calculated we had traveled thirteen miles. The leader congratulated them on their result and then passed the map and GPS onto the second group so that they could make their plan.

small iceberg

The next day Group B planned to maintain a slow even pace for the entire day.  At first people were complaining because they were cold but once they warmed up they found that they were able to maintain this pace for longer.  Again at the end of the day, the team calculated we had skied fourteen miles.  This improvement spurred Group C on the following day to think of a way to do even better.

The leader’s decision to delegate the leadership to individual groups each day provided an opportunity for the novices to be involved in decision making whilst under the watchful eye of an experienced person.  But what really impressed us was that he was willing to trust in our capabilities to help us all reach our goal.

The same principle works in business where self managed teams can be highly effective provided they are given a clear overall vision and boundaries for their task, and report back results on a regular basis.   People are motivated when they are trusted to deliver and are involved in the decision making process.  Too often, leaders are afraid to delegate for fear of them losing their personal power.  Yet in my experience a team must utilize the capabilities of all its members if it has any chance of achieving a challenging goal.   Its the leader’s job to make sure this happens.