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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

Let GPS Be Your Leadership Guide

From the August 5th, 2012 edition of the Columbia Business Times.

In ancient days, sea captains used an instrument called a sextant to determine the distance between the North Star and the horizon. This calculation enabled them to establish the course for their voyage and arrive at their desired destination.

Today we use satellite technology that operates on the Global Positioning System. Chances are almost everyone you know has a GPS in his or her car, phone or computer. GPS technology has made it easier than ever to know where we are, where we’re going and how long it will take us to get there.

As leaders today, we need to take note of these same points. Where are we? Where are we going? How far do we have to go, and how long will it take us to get ourselves — and our team — to the desired destination?

Most people use their GPS in their automobile, so part of the calculation of how long a trip will take depends on the performance of the vehicle. By the same token, how long it takes us to get where we want to be depends on our performance. Individual team members’ performances are important but not nearly as important as our performance because we are the ceiling for the entire team.

There’s a famous story about Pete Rose when he was in the latter stages of his playing career and was functioning as a player and manager. He would race rookies and other players from home plate to first base. If Pete won, he would tell the player: “How could I possibly beat you to first? I’m a 40-something-year-old man!” Pete knew he was the ceiling on the team’s performance, and he challenged his players to break through that ceiling.

We might need to consider the possibility that our ceiling is too low and that we are the very thing that is stopping our team’s progress. Rather than criticizing our team’s performance, perhaps we should evaluate our own performance first. This doesn’t mean people around us can never do anything wrong. Hardly. What it does mean is that leadership is driven by example and influence and that we should be monitoring our own performance levels with the most critical eye of all. We are not just responsible for getting a single balloon to fly higher; our job is to remove the ceiling so all the balloons can fly freely to new heights.

The strategy we must embrace includes developing and producing our own leadership GPS to measure our performance, our team’s performance and the organization’s progress. What are the leadership competencies you should be exhibiting? What is your knowledge level of these competencies? What is your skill level, and how do you perform on a consistent basis? The same applies to your team collectively and individually.

Those components will always comprise the biggest constraints to overcome. If you can correctly identify them and successfully employ the strategy, it will be step one toward reaching your destination successfully and on time.

A myth that permeated philosophies during ancient times was how sea captains could have their voyages thwarted by massive creatures that could swallow them — crew, ship and all. They would point to a place on the map and exclaim, “There be monsters there!”

The “monster myth” that kills the voyages of leaders today and swallows their efforts whole is the myth of “the fully developed leader.” Just as there were no actual giant sea monsters in those days, there are no fully developed leaders in our day. We learn and develop skills in all areas of our lives every day for the rest of our lives. No leader has made it. No leader has it completely figured out.

If you are a leader with fears that you might have underdeveloped areas, your fears are valid. Those areas exist. The good news is that the leader who faces those areas head on and works on improving are the leaders who have the ultimate respect and dedication of their team.

If you do not exercise courage with hands-on opportunities for development in these areas, neither you nor your team or organization will reach its full potential. Your leadership GPS will continually say: “Recalculating. Make a YOU-turn.” 

Tony Richards is a leader in the area of personal development and senior partner of Clear Vision Development Group, a Columbia-based leadership coaching and training firm. Visit online at or follow on Twitter @tonyrichards4.

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