Leadership at its essence is about leading a team or company from “here”, the current state to “there”, a preferred future state.  When leadership is viewed through the lens of leading others from ‘here’ to ‘there’ the similarities between great leaders and great navigators becomes more clear.

In John Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, one of the chapters describes a 1911 race to the South Pole between two separate teams of explorers. The first had Roald Amundsen as its leader, while Robert Falcon Scott led the other expedition. Both men had experience from similar journeys, but only Amundsen’s South Pole expedition was successful. Why?

Unlike Scott, Amundsen was a navigator. He took his team into danger and extreme conditions, yet thanks to his careful planning, they encountered few obstacles on the trip. As a result, Amundsen managed to navigate the trickier sections without losing people, and he became the first to reach the South Pole. On Scott’s expedition, everyone died.

This example illustrates why leaders need to be good navigators. But what are the defining characteristics of navigators?

1. Navigators See Ahead

One of the qualities a leader should possess is being able to see farther ahead than anyone else in the organization.  Amundsen prepared for the expedition by learning the traveling methods of Eskimos and how they weathered the cold. Everything he learned, he applied: the team had dogsleds, appropriate clothing and stocked supply depots they would pass along the way. His ability to uncover possible difficulties they might encounter, and plan to prevent them is one of the characteristics of navigators.

2. Navigators Balance Facts vs. Faith

Navigators can visualize how their journey will go, and they believe they can lead their team through to the final destination. However, navigators don’t deal in wishful thinking: they don’t rationalize their challenges in order not to feel unprepared. Instead, they crush self-deception by balancing intuition and planning.

Leaders chart the course for their team – a course that will lead to either glory or doom.  The best leaders exhibit an essential characteristics of a navigator, balancing realism and optimism, which increase the chances of a successful journey.

3. Navigators Are Learners

Even if you’re not a natural navigator, you can learn this skill — whether through the active tutelage of a more experienced mentor or your conscious efforts. Get in the habit of planning, and researching for the possible unforeseen risks of any project you are working on. To be able to navigate, you need to predict all the difficulties you may encounter, yet remain confident that you can overcome them.

Take the time to reflect on your previous experiences that are relevant to your current situation. Whether those experiences were positive or negative, think them through and analyze them. Navigators learn from their past mistakes and the mistakes of others. And the same goes for their own and others successes — incorporate past wins and loses into planning for the future.

So What?

Since leadership is a journey, hwo could you improve as a leader by better exhibiting these three characteristics of navigators?

Next Steps

  • Visit NavigateTheJourney.com and schedule a call with Tom Barrett to discuss how he helps entrepreneurs get what they want from their business. 


About The Author

Tom Barrett is a Nashville-based leadership team coach who utilizes proven processes such as Scaling Up and the ValueBuilder System to help entrepreneurs get what they want from their business. 

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