Steadfast Leadership And Identifying Your True North

Steadfast Leadership And Identifying Your True North

Sailboat Sunset

I’ve been obsessed with ocean navigation and boating for almost my whole life. As a young adult, my parents helped me buy my first vessel, which I captained with my siblings and friends as crewmates.

Out at sea, I quickly learned that storms, wind, and currents often pull your boat in directions you didn’t intend. If you’re not paying attention, there’s a chance you won’t notice the change, and by the time you do, it could lead to disaster. The captain must keep their eye on the true north and the magnetic bearings of their compass to stay on the desired course continuously.

I’ve found the same sentiment to be applicable in my career as a leader. Your business also has a “true north,” and you, as a leader, can use this unique concept to keep your organization (or your personal goals) on track.

Define Your Magnetic Purpose

Like a ship’s captain relying on unchanging geographic north (known as “true north”), leaders must also be able to reference strong indicators or magnetic bearings relative to their true north that define and support their business’s desired direction.

This true north should be a part of every element of the organization, from daily processes to long-term goals and everything in between. Once you have a true north reference point, you can develop magnetic bearings to reach your desired destination. Of course, the first step is to define your unique true north.

When I was brought on as the CEO of Nevada Donor Network in 2012, we didn’t have a defined true north. The organization was floundering—fighting against a toxic culture resulting in severe underperformance. I knew that to survive and succeed, we needed to define a singular purposeful aspiration and use it as our true north.

After much collaboration, we settled on the following: “A world-class organ procurement organization committed to continuous improvement guided by accountability, quality, and excellence to fulfill our mission of saving and improving lives.” Once we established this, we were able to continuously test our efforts and results against this goal.

Stay on Course

As a sea current can slowly cause a vessel to drift off its intended path, seemingly inconsequential aspects of your business can slowly pull you further away from your true north over time.

When you apply the idea of true north across all facets of your organization, you can effectively keep your team aligned and moving in tandem. But without a clear and definitive direction, there’s no way to gauge whether everyone is rowing in the same direction.

Clarifying your distinct true north is just the beginning. Once it’s established, team members at all levels, especially leadership, must understand it, refer to it often, and measure performance against it. This looks like continuously reviewing departmental metrics and the attitudes of teams and individuals to ensure that they are in alignment with the organization’s cardinal direction.

Leaders must be able to see the connection between the processes and goals of individual teams and how they contribute to or inhibit long-term goals. If individuals or teams work against the desired direction (sometimes unknowingly!), it can slow or, in some cases, even reverse progress.

The antidote is long-term alignment, but this can only come after a deep understanding of how the day-to-day affects long-term success, which requires accurate metrics, widespread accountability, and thorough analysis.

Exhibit Steadfast Leadership

Leaders must focus on long-term results and overcome the challenges to create any sustainable change within an organization. This kind of progress doesn’t happen overnight; sometimes, it takes years. Because of the slow nature of organizational change, leaders must be steadfast in their efforts and be vested for the long term.

It’s easy to get distracted by short-term results, small projects, or endless possibilities, but to be worth any investment, these must also align with your true north.

Establishing an organization’s definitive true north cuts through the day-to-day noise and keeps big-picture aspirations within view. As a leader, you must consistently show your teams that you are unwavering in your pursuit of the company’s true north.

Without a steadfast captain and crew, your ship can easily lose its way.

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