What my dead iPhone taught me about leadership
You know that moment when you’re hanging out at a bar by your lonesome, ‘cus it started raining on your walk home, and you take your phone from your pocket to feel less alone, and as soon as you swipe to open the battery dies?
Yeah, me too. It happened to me awhile back, and a cool thing happened next: my mind wandered into the topic of leadership and how effective leaders can learn a lot from lighthouses. Random — I know — that’s why I wrote it all down on a blank piece of receipt paper, given to me by the generous bartender.
Battery: dead 🔋😵
“I hear you, universe. Let’s think about…
So, lighthouses lead ships. People lead other people.
What could people-leaders learn from the lighthouse’s way? “
— the voice inside my head
Your signal is dependable and steadfast, communicating a clear and direct path forward. You’re always there when others’ needs arise, to shine brightly and with positive guidance. Your actions and behavior over time lead to certain expectations from those you guide; meeting their expectations is paramount.
Lighthouses don’t shine during broad daylight, for their impact would be negligible; plus, they need down time, too. Indeed, a moment in the dark with oneself is sometimes necessary for progress’s sake. But when the storm rolls in and skies darken…when the sun falls and nighttime impedes vision, the lighthouse is on and ready to shine brightly with direction, as has come to be expected by those who seek its guidance.
Provide direction, not decisions
Leaders are there to remind their peers and pupils of boundaries, to provide foresight into the threats and opportunities associated with testing the limits. Leaders should encourage exploration and help others plot their own course. Well-positioned guidance will allow for off-course deviations (aka, learning opportunities) and the eventual discovery of the middle way.
A calm confidence is characteristic of effective leaders. This casts a warm hue of comfort across your crew mates, instilling a strong collective self-esteem. When obstacles are enthusiastically reframed as opportunities, the obstacle-ridden course suddenly seems more navigable than otherwise perceived.
A lighthouse stands where it is, where it was, and where it will be. A leader’s presence as a beacon requires patience and a firm grasp on the reality of now. Your advice will be requested amidst stormy conditions; you have to think and solve problems through chaotic, stressful situations. Be inquisitive and listen attentively. Remain mindful and help others do the same; steer toward level-headed, undistorted, context-rich decision-making.
Fade to black
The greatest captains find themselves on deck less and less over time, as the team incorporates its experience and learning into the forward course. Well-led team members will naturally develop greater discipline and independence along the journey. Encouragement is best delivered without self-righteousness and seek to avoid pushing others toward something for which they’re not searching. Rather, it’s a leader’s role to enable the discovery of a worthwhile destination, toward which individuals and teams will be motivated to push themselves with conviction and confidence.
I recently learned from a very wise woman, whose lead I luckily follow every day, another lighthouse-like leadership skill: sometimes your light will shine in the eyes of those seeking direction — even to the point that they seem annoyed or frustrated. A good leader will keep shining when it’s the right thing, knowing that the discomfort that causes one to squint or wince is also growth happening.
And that concludes my list of lighthouse — leadership similes.