Of all the Christmas carols beloved of millions, one makes absolutely no sense to me at all. It is a folk song, so there is no one to blame, and its staunchest defenders appeal only to its traditional place in the catalogue of Christmas culture. It apparently was created in Derbyshire, England sometime in the 17th century and the melody is an off-spring of “Greensleeves.” It is beautiful to hear especially in a choral arrangement. The problem is the lyrics.
In most forms the words make reference to ships sailing in to Bethlehem. That is a bit problematic since that Holy City is land-locked. I suppose that some village minstrel in the 17th century jolly old is to be forgiven for envisioning Bethlehem as a far away and exotic version of Portsmouth. Then there is the issue of the ships. We're they carrying the wise men? Perhaps they were actually camels, the ships of the desert. Really? That's a stretch. Someone suggested they represent the Trinity. On ships? The Trinity? Oh, come on!
No, the bottom line is, “Three Ships” is a sweet old tune we will continue to sing at Christmas and simply ignore the fact that we have no idea what it means. I'm okay with that and I will bask in its beauty at Christmas and simply not think about it too much. In fact I am actually pretty adept at not thinking overmuch about anything, especially obscure things.
However, I bet I know what YOU are thinking right at this moment. Why is he writing this now when Christmas is hardly on anyone's mind? I am choosing the metaphor of three ships for a lesson on leadership and the meaningless old carol came to my mind. That's it. So, forgetting Christmas until it’s colder, consider with me three ships and leadership lessons they offer.
I. The Costa Concordia
On January 13, 2012, Captain Francesco Schettino drove his ship up on the rocks just off the shore of Isola del Giglio, an island northwest of Rome. I referenced this wreck in the introductory pages of ReLaunch.
RELAUNCH: HOW TO STAGE AN ORGANIZATIONAL COMEBACK
by Dr. Mark Rutland
Before Interstate 75 was built, drivers traveling to Florida went right through the middle of Corbin, Kentucky, on Highway 25. Every day hundreds of them stopped at Harland Sanders Café for a bite of Colonel Harland Sanders' fried chicken. But when the interstate was complete, Highway 25 went quiet, and Sanders' Café was left high and dry. Colonel Sanders was at a crossroads. He could hope for the best and ride his near-empty restaurant all the way down, or he could pursue another vision for his restaurant.
Colonel Sanders’ fortune grew out of the disaster that ensued when I-75 bypassed his hometown. He hit the road and started recruiting Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisees across the United States. It all began with a clear-eyed look at a situation that had changed completely. That willingness to face reality is not as common as it should be among leaders.
I spoke last night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to an eager group of business people. They defied easy definition. Women and men. All ages. Different levels of experience and success above the high threshold required for membership. There were Christians, Muslims and the totally non-religious. Some were single, some married, and some in second or third marriages. The one unifying reality was that they had to do at least one million dollars a year in business in order to join. It was the Kuala Lumpur chapter of an international association called The Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. They invited me to lecture on turnaround leadership, and of course, I was pleased to do so. I hope I said some things that were useful. They were certainly positive and asked questions for half an hour after I spoke for an hour. In fact, the moderator had to call a halt or who knows how long they might have continued. It was as intense an audience as I have ever enjoyed. But the insight I gained was greater than anything I might have imparted.
Near the end of the movie Tombstone, Wyatt Earp tells his friend Doc Holiday that he just wants a "normal life." Holiday's response is classic.
"There's no such thing as normal life. There's just life."
I have come to believe, that as unlikely as it seems for wisdom to come from such a source, Doc Holiday may have been right. What I think people mostly mean by "normal life" is actually calm, even, unchallenged life with neither great victories nor disappointing defeats. The seductive charm of such normality, so called, is evenness. Such dreamt-of unthreatening continuity, despite its plasticity, has few hurts or frights or failures. It also wants challenge, opportunity and the delight of victory.
When I designed the Mission-Function Vertical Axis, I was seeking for a way to demonstrate visually the connection between the "lowest" function in an organization and the mission that presides at the top. I have been delighted through the last few years to see how many leaders in both the church world and in business have expressed how it helped them. It is now a regular and indispensable part of the teaching at the National Institute of Christian Leadership. Last week and this week in The Leader's Notebook, I am considering some points on the continuum where confusion causes arrested development of the organization and can lead to serious problems. For Part I of this brief two-part series please read last week's edition of The Leader’s Notebook (August 14, 2013).
I will not treat the Axis itself in any detail. For that you have to attend the NICL, where I go through it step-by-step and deal all the points where confusion can most easily set in and hinder the organization. (For information on the NICL please go to drmarkrutland.com).
As she sobbed pathetically on one end of the couch her husband scowled on the other, only the length of the sofa between them, and yet light years apart.
"I hate it when she cries like that." His face was a mask of anger, perhaps even rage. "I can't stand her emotionalism."
Apart from the fact that he himself was at least as emotional as his wife, he was guilty of a common and unfortunate misnomer. He had confused at least two and perhaps three words which are frequently confused and misused in a way that actually causes problems in leadership as well as relationships.
For use in teaching at the National Institute of Christian Leadership, I designed a model called the Mission-Function Vertical Axis. Many NICL attendees have expressed how important that teaching became to them. Here in The Leader's Notebook, I will not give an exhaustive explanation of the axis itself, but this week and next I will discuss two points of confused organizational thinking which can occur along that axis and which will cause stagnation and other problems. Many organizations live at a tragic level of confusion over two elements of the axis: strategy and tactics.
Tactics are the use of available resources for the accomplishment of a task. In other words, how do I use what I have to accomplish what needs to be done in this circumstance? Tactical thinking is not about keeping the circumstance from happening again or even understanding what caused it this time. Tactics answer a basic question. What is the best way to resolve this now given the resources at hand?
Strategy, on the other hand is the comprehensive set of plans and goals designed to further the long range vision. Strategy asks a totally different question from tactics. Tactics asks, “How do we fix this?” Strategy asks, “How do we get where we want to go? How do we best move this organization toward the fulfillment of the vision?”
Paula Deen turned out to be the girl who kicked the hornet’s nest. I am always intrigued by what makes any transmission interesting, impressive, emotional or downright offensive to others. I have seen veritable firestorms unleashed by statements which, to me at least, seemed hardly at all provocative.
Every so often I get a positive response, a radically, enthusiastically positive response to something I say and it catches me by surprise. Totally. It always makes me feel like Barney Fife when Andy would exult, "Wow, Barney, that's a brilliant idea."
Barney would answer with unfeigned confusion written all over his face,"What? What did I say?"
"Oh, no," she moaned as if she were staring at the gallows.
"What?" I asked. "What's wrong?"
We were fellow teachers at a small, elite, private academy in Washington, D.C. Not yet credentialed, still in college in fact, I was part-time and therefore free of all the extra duties and committees required of the full-time faculty. She was easily my mother's age, perhaps older. I'm sure she saw me more as another student than as the "colleague" I fancied myself.
"Oh, it's another meeting. The principal has called another meeting of a committee I serve on. I'm thinking of faking a migraine. Will you back me up?"
"Is it as horrible as all that?"
"It's worse! It's excruciating. They go on and on and on and they accomplish nothing. He just enjoys being the center of attention. I'd rather actually HAVE a migraine."
It was years later, many meetings later, many excruciating meetings later before I understood both her pain and the real problem. When people say meetings are horrible what they really mean is horrible meetings are horrible. I have sat through meetings where I ached to scream. I have also been in meetings that were efficiently conducted, yielded results and proved crucial to setting and meeting team goals. Actually after such meetings I have sensed, not anger and frustration, but enthusiasm, good humor and esprit de corps.
I have been able to identify five keys to conducting a productive and, dare I say it, enjoyable meeting.
If you start losing teeth at fifty-five it's a crisis. If you start losing them at five it’s progress. What makes a crisis a crisis depends in part on the context. But there are life crises which irrespective of context are universally understood. I find it absolutely remarkable that so much in King David's life and leadership is so easily applicable to my own. He lived three-thousand years ago. An Iron Age warrior, an outlaw, a poet, a musician and a king. None of these, especially the musician part, have any remote similarity to my life, yet every time I study David, I identify.
I suppose David's life could be accurately described as one unceasing crisis. Many might think of their own lives that way, but there are actually long periods in even the most tumultuous life which are lived in relative calm. We just don't memorialize those. Likewise, the writer of the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles surely felt no need to say, "For the next five years everything was pretty much ok."
Having said all that, I have identified three specific crises in the life of this desert warrior which are profoundly relevant to the modern family and leader.
Now that the first round of George Zimmerman's trial has ended in acquittal, we can take a moment and ask ourselves, is there anything in the whole story to learn about life and leadership? There will almost certainly be civil suits and counter suits and perhaps even a federal trial yet ahead. What a mess. But even now there must be something we can glean from all this. I would like to offer a few reflections that have nothing to do with how you feel about the verdict.