Leadership from a Canoe

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In a span of just a few weeks, I made some significant changes to my businesses. I pulled the plug on one project; I doubled down my focus on another; I revised my business group strategy, and I’m now in the middle of reorganizing my teams. I was able to do that because I am on vacation.

For nine weeks, I traveled across the eastern part of Canada. I visited Montréal, Québec, Gaspé, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island, and Toronto. I am now spending the final week of my vacation driving around Ontario. In those nine weeks, I experienced long hikes, road trips, bike rides, ship cruises, and kayak and canoe trips. And from a distance, I stared at the forests, and I reorganized my company.

Every once in a while, it is smart to take a few steps back to see the forest from the trees. When you’re in the middle of several busy projects, it is too easy to believe that your involvement is essential and that your input can’t be missed. For sure, your direct attention is often useful to ensure that team members do things right. But more important than people doing things right is people doing the right things.

 

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
– Peter F. Drucker

 

With every type of venture, it is essential that first, you pick the right thing, and then you perform the thing right. First, I researched all the best places to see in Canada, and then I created an itinerary for visiting them. First, I selected the right friends and family to join me during my tour, and then I discussed with them the best periods, pick-ups, and drop-offs. First, we checked the best available restaurants; then, we started navigating.

As a leader, your first responsibility is making sure you’re building the right company, and then (as a manager) you try to grow that company right. This is not a binary switch. Over time, the more you learn about building the right business, the more you can lean toward building the business right. That’s why the Shiftup Program shows an emphasis on Exploration (seeking the right business) in the early stages of the business lifecycle and a shift toward Execution (growing the business right) in the later stages.

 

And that’s why my long trip to Canada might have been one of the few right decisions I made as a leader. Standing (literally) miles away from my businesses and the problems we are trying to solve helped me to see the forest from the trees. For my team members, it wasn’t always easy to have very little interaction with me when I was enjoying my hikes, swims, and bike rides in Canada. But while they tried hard to do things right, I wondered if we were actually doing the right things. 

And for some reason, tough decisions are easier to make when you’re staring at the forest from a distance while paddling in a canoe on a lake.

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