We can all remember that great 70’s hit by the Hues Corporation – “Rock the Boat!” This song came to mind recently when I attended the Argyle Executive Forum conference 2011 Leadership in Human Capital Spotlight: Learning and Development.
The program description for one of the panel discussions, titled, “Rock the Boat, Don’t Get Thrown Off: Lessons in Authentic Leadership” suggested that, “Leaders must be unreasonable, for they must challenge the status quo and develop change through new ideas and tactics.” And while the session included a variety of discussions on topics like collective leadership behavior, leadership self-knowledge and emotional intelligence, I must say that the idea of the need for leaders to be un-reasonable really made me think.
The conventional wisdom is that when times are rough, we think of leaders as needing to calm the waters, keeping things stable – and as the song says, helping to keep the organization safe from the rolling seas. But reality dictates doing what seems counterintuitive, while recognizing the need for balance.
When times are rough, the last thing a leader should do is lay quiet, simply hoping for calmer waters. Instead, the leader needs to rock the boat by focusing on innovation. The smart leader understands such times like these need leadership that shakes things up by adding new, challenging perspectives – ultimately adding greater value to the organization.
The experienced boat owner understands that keeping a sea-faring vessel on the same course when there’s a drastic change in sailing conditions makes little sense, and may even lead to broaching or capsizing. Instead, the captain needs to understand how to move the boat in response to changing wave action, and that means also understanding the capabilities of the boat itself.
The phrases “batten down the hatches” and “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” are both part of our lexicon. And, they can describe the role of leadership. The captain must chart a course that avoids treacherous seas where possible, but also is willing to face challenges and understands that the strongest gales are usually followed by the calmest seas.
Sharon Daniels is CEO of AchieveGlobal in Tampa, Florida