An organization that is working on system-wide change did some evaluations with the front-line staff involved in the efforts. What many of them said was some version of “we want a road map” – please tell us how to enact this change, outline the steps for us, give us direction, etc.

The thing is – there is no road map. There isn’t one to give them – and the change is so new and so massive that no one could even make a map if they wanted to. Instead of a map, what the leaders need to give their team is an understanding of the process of change and reframe their identity to one of creator or explorer instead of follower.

I think about this on Columbus Day – and what must it have been like for him and his flotilla to set out to unknown destinations. There was no map for Columbus – nor is there one for any organization embarking on a change effort. In addition to spending time talking about the change itself, leaders would be wise to align expectations of their staff to ready them for ambiguity, missteps, and confusion – and prepare people to make the map instead of futilely seeking one.

It seems appropriate to share this quote again today:

When David Livingstone’s work in Africa became known, a missionary society wrote to him and asked, “Have you found a good road to where you are?” If he had, the letter indicated the society was prepared to send some men to help with his work. Livingstone’s answer was clear and to the point. “If you have men who will come only over a good road, I don’t need your help. I want men who will come if there is no road…”

 …Or no map.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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