By Doron York
July 16, 2009
What do leaders and the Northern Salmon have in common? Well, here it is: at their core, the “DNA makeup” of both leaders and the Northern Salmon is to swim upstream. It is constant and never-ending.
The salmon don’t know any other way, because that is how their DNA is programmed. For leaders, however, this phenomenon is counterintuitive to the fundamental DNA makeup of human beings. For people, this is not an automatic habit, or even a preference. Actually, the opposite is the case. As human beings, we are taught and educated to be comfortable, to go with the flow, to not make waves, and keep things smooth - even if the cost is high.
But there is one thing that your internal dialogue (your “evil twin”) forgot to tell you. Your comfort zone is a waiting room for your life to be over. It could be said that even if you don’t get what you are really committed to, it is ok as long as you are going through life without breakdowns, interruptions or disturbances.
Remember, the number one objective of human being is to survive life. The question is; what is it that you are actually surviving? Someone once said, “How you spend your time is how you spend your life.” If that is true, then at the end of your life the most powerful, though discomfiting, question could be, “What was the purpose of your being here?” I suggest you ask yourself that question now, rather than waiting until your number has come up.
Leadership is about how you lived your life, not about how you survived it. It is about making noise when there is silence; about creating breakdowns when there are none; about creating disturbances when there are no storms. Leadership is about interrupting the drift of life for no reason other than to invent new possibilities and explore new frontiers. In short, to swim upstream, and to do so with grace, passion and full self expression - full out and without holding anything back, so that when you die, you are all used up.
Here are some elements to help shape your leadership DNA:
1. A future without breakdowns is a future that is not big enough - One of the most common ways that human beings learn is through what is not working. Leaders view breakdowns as an opportunity to cause a breakthrough. You can’t have one without the other. A leader knows that. A leader views a breakdown as simply an interruption in his/her commitment, nothing more and nothing less. Leadership is the art of working effectively and powerfully with breakdowns in ways that allow new possibilities for breakthroughs to arise. Welcome them, embrace them, look for them and cause them!
2. Interruptions are ways to get the world’s attention - A leader would rather ask for forgiveness than wait for permission. Leadership is not about accommodating business as usual. Leaders use interruptions as a way to get people’s attention. Interruption is a powerful tool - don’t be afraid to use it!
3. Disturbances will get people out of their comfort zone - One of the most dangerous threats to extraordinary and exceptional performance is complacency. When things are going well, people tend to slow down and to become comfortable. Wise leaders know how to create disturbances to make sure that people are on high alert. Try it sometime - it can actually be quite fun!
4. Making noise will cause people to wake up out of a deep coma - In the drift of business as usual, when there is some momentum, people’s experience is often one of being in the quiet after the storm, and they have the tendency to fall into the “deep coma syndrome.” The excitement and the energy that was part of working so concentratedly has disappeared and faded away. Leaders need to make the noise when there is silence. Get people awake and present, continuing to move forward. After all, if you’re not moving forward, you are moving backwards. You may not be the most popular person, but you will be the very effective one. Remember - “In the end, it’s all about the results, stupid!”
5. You swimming upstream will have people question their own habits - It might be the most difficult task to swim upstream, for it requires constant effort. Although you may experience a lot of resistance and inertia at first, over time people will start questioning why they aren’t swimming in the other direction. Changing people’s habits is a very tedious job. You can impact their habits only by impacting your own. You need to be the change you want to see in others!
In order for a leader to have an impact, they must construct and assemble their “leadership DNA” so that swimming upstream becomes their natural expression - to the point that they do not know any other way, just like the Northern Salmon. It just becomes the way that life is, period.
Leadership is the kind of phenomenon that is not about privilege. Rather, it is about duty and responsibility. You got entrusted with the kingdom, and what will happen to it is up to you - and you alone. You have trusted and knowledgeable people around you. Use them, empower them, acknowledge them - but at the end of the day, they’re all looking at you, kid.
There is an old saying: “When you are right, no one remembers, but when you are wrong, no one forgets.” That’s the life of a leader. Do you still want it?
Remember - your life is waiting, don’t be late! See you in the northern waters.
Doron York is founder and CEO of Business Edge International in Bloomfield Hills, MI, a firm specializing in performance, productivity and executive coaching. He can be reached at [email protected].