CEF Spotlight

Leadership on the Edge

By Robert Swan, Founder of 2041 Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 6.48.51 PM

Having experienced leadership implementation in some of the
world’s most hostile environments, I’ve applied the lessons learned in polar exploration to business management practices. In today’s ever-changing world, an effective leader must embody traits and skills that will inspire and motivate their team into action, and understand that leadership, communication and courage all play pivotal roles in the collaboration, and ultimate success of the team. Additionally, we have found that strong leaders tend to encompass the following five core values: inspiration, teamwork, communication, motivation, and courage.

One of the most important qualities defining a successful leader is the ability to inspire. Inspiration cultivates high levels of employee engagement and commitment; thus, distinguishing effective leadership from average management practices. Additionally, a strong leader has the ability to bring out the best traits from the members of their team, consequently enabling the completion of any task. Inspiration is all about hope, and hope is a very motivating factor in successful team dynamics.

Teamwork is also critical to any business and involves trust among management, team members, and associates. The effective leader must not only take some responsibility for the success of the team, but for its failures as well. Overall the relationship dynamic experienced among team members must be continuously carried out through positive reinforcement, or plus delta feedback, a tool used to identify strengths and weaknesses. This responsibility initially falls upon management and is achieved by leading through example. In parallel, internal feedback is necessary for a successful team dynamic, allowing for the implementation of change at a faster rate. It is no surprise that people from different backgrounds and departments have the tendency to view both problems and solutions differently.

Building on teamwork, communication is essential to daily operations. We live in an age of advanced communications and technology, yet many people still find little time to communicate effectively. In a hostile environment like the Antarctic, you need to explain your thoughts, feelings and actions in order to survive. I strongly believe concise communication in business practice is equally as vital. Leadership requires one to use effective communication to convey desired thoughts and emotions. However, an important counterpoint of communication is listening. Without the ability to listen, messages are easily misinterpreted; therefore, minimizing overall efficiency. Many errors on the job can be linked back to poor listening skills and listening enables you to acquire information so that you can make beneficial decisions for your business.

Listening to your peers can foster a motivational environment. Motivation ties into leading by example and brings employees closer to the organization. By becoming a role model, and backing up your words with action, team members will feel encouraged and inspired to take action. Even the smallest of acts can ultimately lead to a measurable difference and overall multiplier effect. Furthermore, one can agree there’s a direct link between motivation and output. Indeed all businesses are dependent on internal staff from a quality and quantity perspective to ensure all demands are met. If your team is lacking motivation, it’s highly likely that key targets and demands will be missed. Motivation fuels a sustainable team and an overall solid workforce.

Courage is essential in the workplace, and in life. It is by having the courage to make those split-second tough calls, to stand by the decision in the face of adversity and seeing it through to the end, not only speaks to the character of the leader, but to them as a person. Sometimes the right thing and the hardest thing to do is one in the same and having that courage of conviction will determine what can be achieved. There is no doubt that decision-making is time dependent, and assessing the amount of information required before making a decision, against the time available, can be an uncomfortable challenge. In the Antarctic, there is no desk to hide behind and mistakes do not necessarily result in monetary losses. They more than likely will result in the loss of limb or life.

From Antarctica to the boardroom, leadership qualities and practices are a crucial element in navigating your team through uncertain times. Few if any would find inspiration in negativity. Individuals in isolation rarely achieve great feats. Instead, team effort that focuses on building strengths, appropriately addressing weaknesses, and organized unity will achieve even the feats that could be considered impossible.

‘If you can do, or dream you can, begin it now. For boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’

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