Just having a compass doesn’t really make you a leader.
This realization came to me while watching my oldest grandson on a hike yesterday. We were visiting the beautiful Shelburne Farm on the shores of Lake Champlain in Shelburne, VT. At one point in our visit to the farm, we decided to take a hike up a trail to One Tree Hill and look out onto Lake Champlain.
My wife, the greatest Mimi in the universe, had purchased a little something for each of the grandchildren to take on our hike. She had purchased a little magnifying glass for our granddaughter because she loves to stop and explore along the way. And she had purchased a compass for our grandson because he likes to feel like he is in charge and is a leader. Both were ecstatic to receive these gifts. Both were well suited to their temperaments and personalities.
My grandson was convinced that the compass gave him the right to be the leader. He proudly held the compass out in front of himself and proclaimed that we were to move forward in the direction he pointed. Unfortunately, the trailhead was in the opposite direction. Once we got turned around and started our ascent he repeatedly thrust the compass out in front, reminded us he was the leader, and trudged forward.
We had to adjust his heading several times in order to get to the top of the hill and enjoy the gorgeous view of Lake Champlain and New York State across the water. But that did not diminish his excitement of leading us to the great and scenic vista.
What is the Leadership Lesson here?
The leadership lesson is that just having a compass doesn’t make you a leader.
In fact, a compass is really not as useful as a leadership tool as you might think. Here’s why. A compass doesn’t tell you where to go or which direction to take. All a compass does is tell you in which direction you will find true North. It will only tell you which direction to take if you are wanting to go North. It is up to you to know the direction that you want to go.
Leadership often involves taking you and your organization in many directions other than North. As a leader you must know where you want to go. And if your direction is South by Southwest, a compass will only tell you that direction relative to true North. The compass does not point you South by Southwest. You must know that is where you want to go and you must use the compass to find your heading and direction to take you South by Southwest.
My grandson felt like a leader proudly holding that compass out in front of his chest and pointing up the trail toward the top of the hill. And who am I to burst his leadership bubble? He is only six years old. He is allowed to feel like a leader while holding that Dollar Store compass.
But you and I don’t get such an easy pass. A compass is not a beacon to follow. It is up to you and I as leaders to provide the direction. And the compass will help to tell us if we are accurately heading in the direction that we claim we want to travel.