- Tue, July 24 2012
- Filed under: Nonprofit leadership
My colleague Jocelyn Harmon just shared with me Jim Collins’ new book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos And Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. One of Collins’ key leadership concepts is the idea of the 20-mile march.
As leadership expert Leigh Henderson summarizes it nicely here, the Twenty-Mile March is the idea of slogging along at a steady pace no matter the environmental factors.
The analogy Collins used was about the results of two teams led by Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott in 1911 who wanted to be the first ones in modern history to reach the South Pole. Amundsen and his team survived while Scott and his did not. Collins writes that, “The 20-Mile March is more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that you keep on track.” Both teams were led by men of around the same ages and same expertise, the teams were similarly outfitted, and they started their hopeful roundtrips of 1,400 miles almost at the same time in the same weather as each other. It was the behaviors of the leaders that made the difference. Amundsen made the roundtrip home with his crew; Scott and his crew lay frozen near but not at the South Pole.
What was the difference? “Amundsen adhered to a regimen of consistent progress, never going too far in good weather, careful to stay far away from the red line of exhaustion that could leave his team exposed, yet pressing ahead in nasty weather to stay on pace.” The pace he followed was between 15 and 20 miles a day. Amundsen arrived at the South Pole after keeping up a regimented daily pace in good and bad weather that averaged 15½ per day. Scott, on the other hand, “would sometimes drive his team to exhaustion on good days and then sit in his tent and complain about the weather on bad days.” He was erratic about keeping any sort of regimen, responding instead to the climate and energy. Scott’s behavior led to him and his team not making the trip home
I think in many ways, we are all on a 20-mile march. We are trying to tackle huge challenges, amid a chaotic and ever-changing environment. So are you a determined Amundsen or an erratic Scott?
Think Amundsen: one foot in front of the other, day after day. As Collins puts it here,
Twenty-Mile Marching helps turn the odds in your favor for three reasons. First, it builds confidence in your ability to perform well in adverse circumstances. Confidence comes not from motivational speeches, charismatic inspiration, wild pep rallies, unfounded optimism, or blind hope… [It is] actual achievement, accomplishing stringent performance standards year in and year out, no matter the industry conditions. Accomplishing a 20-Mile March, consistently, in good times and bad, builds confidence. Tangible achievement in the face of adversity reinforces ... that we are ultimately responsible for improving performance. We never blame circumstance; we never blame the environment
Amen to that.