Fly by Night

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll get you there.

Maps are fine tools. Long before Apple maps and Google maps and all the other blank maps, we had real maps, paper maps. As a young dad we criss-crossed the country many times my then-wife reading the map (soon to be supplanted by my middle daughter who was a much better navigator) as I repeated back the cuts and turns called out to me as we’d search out one by-road after another.

Good times.

As a boy I poured over maps of the world wondering about the hills, mountains, forests and rivers so lovingly depicted through color variations. I searched across Europe and Asia down into Africa and South America and spied Australia and New Zealand off by their lonsome. I loved viewing the world full of its possibilities. Cartographers know maps are full of errors including relative size and dimension, and real map lovers will tell you stories about fake towns meant to catch copyright infringers, the most well-known perhaps being Esso’s 1934 map depicting the town of Agloe, New York. For map lovers a fascinating story which doesn’t end there.

If you know where you’re going, a map’ll help get you there.

But what if you don’t?

What if you simply show up, plop yourself in the driver’s seat, adjust the mirrors and radio (or MP3 today) and take off. Good trip? Perhaps – but probably not for long and certainly not if you’ve got company. The fascination of the open road, full tank and sated belly leads in a few hours to tired dismay as driver et. al., say in weary tones, where are we?!

Much like the team you lead at the office does when you push productivity, action and activity all day without a sense of direction. A one-trick pony whose trick has grown old.

Leadership is art and science. Part planning, part reacting, part believing and part hope, leadership is that strange alchemy that enables others to trust us, to buy into where we’re heading. Intuitively people know we’ve got a plan and a direction, so they follow us almost as if we had a map we were using to guide us surely along the way. 

The beauty of a map is that it enables us to course correct even when we miss that left turn in Albuquerque: we can still recover. But if you simply stomp your foot on the accelerator every day, direction be damned, no amount of course correction will save you as you spin pointless donuts in the parking lot. You are lost, and taking others with you.

The analogy holds true: leaders need to check direction and course and whether you navigate by the North Star, Apple maps or Esso, you’ve got to find your own way. Asking people to give it all they’ve got while you stumble mindlessly from point to point in a daily dance of ineptitude is a sure way to lose both their confidence and your boss’. 

Human resources are too valuable to waste in comic cosmic wandering under misguided leadershership.

Do you lead a team? Do you have a goal? Then get a map and get going. People are happy to give their best if they believe you know where you’re headed. 

Even if your goal is as ephemeral as Agloe.


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