What Is Your Magnetic North?

“The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.”
Henry Kissinger

This quote made me think about how we lead when we are going to a new place that neither we nor those we are leading have been to before. So much of what we do is uncharted and into the unknown. In business as in the voluntary and public sector we are journeying in a rapidly changing world with many unknowns.

A compass is a standard tool we can use to navigate and guide us when traveling through terrain we have not been before. It could be a representation of the right tools for how we navigate. Those tools will often include: (N) the expert kNowledge we have spent years refining, (S) the Strategies we know work, (E) our Emotional intelligence and (W) those people We are aiming to reach or serve.

If we understand why our company or organisation exists and it is really clearly articulated then we can usually navigate well with a robust compass when we combine those tools above. However what do we do when we find ourselves shrouded in fog, caught in a storm or stranded in a blizzard?

Rarely a week goes by at the moment in the media without a story of the many shades of grey between black and white in the news for charities, businesses and in the public sector. Without knowing exactly where we stand and how to respond in times of turbulence we are often in danger of being taken off course.

Common business and strategic thinking refers to a “Golden Thread” which is a plumb-line to measure our key decisions against. But what do we do when we can’t see back to the origins of that thread? I think that is when we need a clear sense of a Magnetic North. For me that idea is a value base of how we are going to orientate our Knowledge, Strategies, Emotional Intelligence and our response to those We aim to serve.

Having a sense of who we are within that framework is just as important as how we look after our employees and team in our quest to serve or supply others to the best of our ability. Especially if we are to lead them to somewhere they and we have not been before.

So how do we guide ourselves when the storm is raging as that is not the time to start looking? We need to know in advance where our Magnetic North is. Spending some time discovering that for ourselves, reflecting on our values or red lines. Living them and refining them is better done in peacetime than in the white heat of turmoil.

The values or those principles that guide us as we lead are something we continue to revisit and remind ourselves of as we work them out in practice. It’s a not a done deal, just as the magnetic north that compasses point to isn’t a fixed point so we do our best to feel comfortable with our own magnetic north. We won’t always get it right, and we will make mistakes along the way. True North, may be just a bit out of our reach but we can get pretty close to our destination and as we get there we will be able to see the rest of the journey with our own eyes.