I recently returned from a two-week journey visiting my daughter in Ireland. She's studying ethnomusicology at the University of Limerick. I'm proud of my little girl. She's studying some pretty heavy theoretical stuff related to safeguarding social song. I must be patient, though, because her dissertation won't be readable for a couple of years (when I can call her Dr. Daughter).
The purpose of my trip was mostly to visit my little offspring, but also see her fine city, experience her adopted culture, and fix up a few things around the apartment. To change things around a bit, we decided to augment my visit with a short trip to Northern Ireland to see a few sites. We had a grand time.
Those Darn Tourist Maps
While in Belfast we got our hands on a tourist map (I don't like being called a tourist. I consider myself more of a cultural experientialist - it sounds more purposeful. After finishing a day's journey of tours (those things tourists do - darn, you caught me), lunch and dinner, and visits to a pub or two, we plotted, or tried to plot, our journey back to our hostel. (Yep, hostel, me, a middle-aged not-your-typical-hostel visitor.)
Our plotting episode became educational in ways we didn't expect. We laid out our tourist map with its roads, tourist sites, drawings of buildings, and pretty pictures. I laid a compass over the map to help us find our bearings. Because the map was limited in detail, and had its fair share of artistic license, we couldn't quite figure out where we were. To complicate things, it seems that per our tourist map, quite a few streets in Belfast are named Donegal.
We never could line up the map landmarks with my compass bearing. To our dismay, some street names on our deficient tourist map were omitted. I guess the cartographer didn't think them important. Layer in the multiple Donegals and we have potential disaster. Luckily logic prevailed and we figured out how to return to a rather noisy hostel.
Leadership and Maps
What does all this map stuff have to do with leadership? I'll tell you. How many times have you run across lists of XX steps to happy employees, or better management or leadership? Mea Culpa. I've spouted such lists. (Although I leave the qualifying statement that any lists I've conjured up were never meant to be all-inclusive, but only indicators of broad points to research later.)
Leadership is much more complicated than easy steps to success. No list can describe intensely complicated human interactions. Philosophers through the ages have attempted to explain the complicated processing of sapiens and their human made environments. The best novels are intensive investigations into human struggles. Ah, and don't forget poetry, those glimpses to the complicated soul.
Can you imagine Shakespeare's plays (all of which are filled with human interaction), boiled down to a few PowerPoint bullets? Boring. No, worse: meaningless, because it can't be done without losing all the important material.
Instruction for Growth, Understanding, and Maturity
I get a kick out of mentoring our leaders of tomorrow. Often they ask that I recommend good books on leadership. Yeah, I can usually think of a few, but more often than not I recommend thinking pieces, such as non-fiction works on systems, theory development, history, and biography. Or, I'll throw out the names of some of my favorite fiction authors, those genius analyzers of struggle, survival, and culture.
This is how we really learn the intricacies of leadership, through intelligent analysis. We question why things are the way they are. We ask what if questions. We read in context of problems we encounter. We apply the things we learn to the world around us. Leadership, and life, is too important to distill to the basic lines of a tourist map. Tourist maps and 10-point lists are tables of contents, not sole sources of the larger picture.
Read, learn, think, ponder (staring at oceans, rivers, and lakes works for me), have fun. Then lead.
Thanks for listening.