Is your organization on a journey?

Leadership Principles: Lessons from Lewis & Clark

With warmer weather upon us, many of us are thinking about summer travel plans. In this “age of information” there are myriads of websites which are helpful when considering options and choices, from simple to high end accommodations. Yelp reviews and personal testimonials help make dining decisions simpler as people have “been there” or “tried it” and share their experiences. But in the business world, how does an organization make a decision to go where they have never been before?

Learning from the Past

Recently, I was in a meeting were a new venture was proposed and several of us were invited to try the product. Clearly the company had decisions to make but needed wisdom in considering all options. In this experience I was reminded of a wonderful book by Jack Uldrich, Into the Unknown: Leadership Lessons from Lewis and Clark’s Daring Westward Expedition. The book tells the story of the amazing adventures of two revolutionary explorers, William Clark and Meriweather Lewis, finding the Northwest Passage from the Louisiana Territory to the Pacific Ocean, but neither man had ever been West before.

Lewis-and-Clark-journeyHistory can teach us through experience and provide us much needed “been there” testimonials. Uldrich’s book gives a synopsis of their journey and applies their experience to today’s business challenges. Lest any reader think it was a walk in the park, Lewis and Clark planned for two years prior to their journey yet they arrived at their destination later than expected.

Why did Lewis & Clark Succeed?

The author suggests Lewis and Clarks’ mission was successful because as leaders they:

  • Thought strategically
  • Surrounded themselves with good people
  • Made tough and timely decisions
  • Managed resources
  • Motivated their team
  • Interacted with different cultures
  • Assimilated vast amounts of information from a variety of sources
  • Balanced long term interests with short term realities
  • Learned from their mistakes
  • Tried new approaches
  • Handled adversity

Lewis and Clark were intentional about every detail of their trip and had to remain flexible when encountering obstacles.

Lessons for your Journey

Rest assured you are not alone if you are facing change in an unknown territory; both new and long-term missions can be daunting. Have you hit an unforeseen challenge? Have you lost sight of your strategy? Do you need perseverance to cross a major divide? Is it taking longer than anticipated?

We can learn from Lewis and Clark because their team had no organizational “how to” videos, no personal testimonies, no google maps and only the supplies that they had prepared for what they thought would be the extent of their journey. A successful organizational journey should include an overarching mission, a deep respect for each other and their crew, a love of learning and a willingness to trust with creative resourcefulness. What kept them on their mission are tried and true leadership principles that work in business today.

We Can Help.

Marcia Newman is a Senior Consultant and Physician Coach with VITAL WorkLife. For more information about Marcia, visit her website. Contact us to learn more about our Physician/Provider Well Being Resources, which includes physician peer coaching. Additionally we offer leadership training and consulting for healthcare organizations to help facilitate change, cultural renewal and more. Learn more at



Uldrich, Jack. (2004) Into the Unknown: Leadership Lessons from Lewis and Clark’s Daring Westward Expedition: AMACOM: Author

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Marcia Newman, MA, CPC, CSL, AMP

Marcia Newman, Principal of Marcia Newman and Associates, brings over 25 years of experience in strategically maximizing performance and growing leaders through professional coaching, consulting, training and inspirational speaking. She is an expert at finding solutions to issues facing organizations and individuals, and asks questions to lead her clients to finding answers of intention and choice. Marcia clarifies and aligns every aspect of business, personal and organizational life through congruence of spirit, voice and the purpose of her clients, whether corporate or individual. Marcia is an Executive Coach with Custom Training Solutions, Executive Coach for Butler’s MBA program, former Adjunct Professor in Purdue’s School of Organization, Leadership and Supervision (OLS), and is a licensed and trained facilitator for the Coaching Clinic. Marcia directed the Speaker’s Bureau for the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership, where she was a national trainer. She also co-owned TeleServe Communications in Indianapolis for 15 years. With this wealth of experience and enthusiasm Marcia works with organizations to bring them back to the “why.” Marcia holds a MA in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University, a Leadership Studies degree from Purdue OLS and a BA from Indiana University. She is a certified Professional Coach, and is also certified in Coaching, Training and Consulting from the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership. Her clients include medical professionals, CEOs and corporate executives, engineers and individuals going through career transitions.