Is your organization on a journey?

Posted on May 24, 2018 by Marcia Newman, MA, CPC, CSL, AMP

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

Lewis-and-Clark-journeyRecently, 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.

History 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 Coach with VITAL WorkLife. For more information about Marcia, visit her website. Additionally, as part of your VITAL WorkLife resources, we offer leadership training and consulting for organizations to help facilitate change, cultural renewal and more. Connect with use through your VITAL WorkLife App or call us!

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

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