While on vacation recently, I was mesmerized as the Army Corps of Engineers executed a beach-replenishment project. Perhaps what most caught my eye was the “Star Wars”-esque, three-wheeled vehicle used by the managers to survey the beach and monitor project progress.
A beach-replenishment project is a complex undertaking involving many individuals and moving parts. What seemed a flawless effort of man and machine from the beach level, the Coastal Research Amphibious Buggy or “CRAB” was the perfect piece of equipment to allow the leaders to observe patterns and trends from a vantage point they would otherwise miss.
In Leadership on the Line, authors Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky introduce the concept that managers and leaders need to take themselves out of the day-to-day fray to understand what is truly going on. The word image they invoke is the concept of getting off the dance floor (operations) and “getting up on the balcony” – a phrase which has made its way into the Andesa Services lexicon these days.
From the perspective of the balcony looking down on the dance floor, the manager can see patterns and truly assess what is occurring in the trenches. Oftentimes, just a simple change of view can bring clarity to patterns or connections that matter.
But, given the pressure to deliver short-term results, how do busy leaders do this?
C: Clarity. Take a clarity break. Leadership should be both active and reflective. As I watched the CRAB, it reminded me that I need to schedule some quiet time in my calendar from time to time. With too many meetings, the day-to-day chaos and unplanned demands, some days it is difficult to see the big picture. A scheduled meeting with myself for some quality “think-time” is a treasured part of my week. It is a great way to reduce the clutter and gain clarity on issues.
R: Refrain. Refrain from the details. Take time to analyze patterns, systems and processes, not details. We tend to perceive what is happening in the moment without consideration to what has happened to lead to that moment. Sometimes I find my intervention in a situation leads to a bigger problem if I haven’t assessed the overall system and environment. By getting up on the CRAB and looking down at the whole environment, a better solution may present itself, perhaps not for the short-run but for the overall progress of the environment.
A: Advisors. Surround yourself with trusted advisors. These individuals should have a strong sense of the organization’s values and be willing to offer their perspective, even when it is difficult or unpopular to do so. These relationships should be based on mutual respect and not some quid-pro-quo expectation. My trusted connections offer a frame which I am unable to perceive from my CEO point of view or day-to-day activities.
B: Be transparent. Be open and seek the perspective of the individual(s) to whom you report. They will often have a different vantage point and potentially broader understanding and responsibilities. Tap into this knowledge network. By sharing my honest views and soliciting perspectives and feedback, I find I am frequently exposed to other possibilities I haven’t even considered.
B: Back into the fray. Get back on the ground. Climbing the CRAB for perspective is fine but change and impact are made by being engaged. The supervising manager of the beach-replenishment project surveyed the beach from the CRAB, but then returned to ground level to activate. Assessments are best done from on high, but results are achieved on the ground.
Y: Yearn to learn. Pursue learning as a passion. From my experience, the best leaders are constantly learning, networking or reading to bring more knowledge to the table with each interaction. The thirst for knowledge opens one to new ideas, challenges, biases, and assumptions and offers new perspectives.
So, yes, even on my Bethany Beach summer vacations, I think about leadership. Like the view of a beach project from the top of a CRAB, one can achieve a different perspective of organizational progress from a higher point of view. To make long-term, lasting impact, it is imperative for leaders to spend some time looking down on the business from the balcony; and, yes, even be a little CRABBY from time to time.