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Home » Leadership

Leadership Parable: The Lantern and The Lighthouse

Submitted by on Sunday, 27 January 2013No Comment

leadership parableOne of the greatest stresses leaders face is the tension between their goal, and the huge gap or journey between that goal and present reality.

So we thought a leadership parable that we use – of the Lantern and the Lighthouse – might, ahem, throw some light on this tension.

One of the concerns participants on our Leadership Challenge Workshops have, is how to ‘set the direction’ or path for the way ahead, and also how to communicate that – especially when the way ahead is not clear.

These comments come up in extended sessions of Model the Way and Inspire a Shared Vision – two of the five leadership practices in The Leadership Challenge.

Leadership itself is rarely a science. More often it is a passion or set of beliefs, or it is a set of practices. This is why leadership lends itself well to parables and metaphors, as in The Lantern and The Lighthouse.

The Leadership parable of the Lantern and the Lighthouse

1. The Lighthouse. In most cases we have some idea of the direction we are expected to go. If this is the case, then we have, in the distance, some reference point, or a Lighthouse, that we can refer our followers to.

Our job as leader is to make that light as clear and vivid as possible. This is why we need to Inspire a Shared Vision, but there is also a step before that – pointing out the path or way ahead. In this case, we need to create a clear strategy (this Model in our opinion is the easiest and most effective way to do that).

By creating a strategy or ‘way’, and communicating it, we can be more confident that our team will go in the direction we need them to.

2. The Lantern. But what if the way ahead is not clear? What if it is foggy and there is nothing we can do about it?

This is when we use The Lantern.

Sometimes we cannot see where a path is leading, but we may throw enough light to see a few feet ahead. In this case we need simply to push on, communicating as much as possible, in order to throw light ahead of us. The Chinese call this wading across the river feeling the stones along the way. While this may be more stressful than having a Lighthouse to guide our way, your followers will feel less stressed if they are engaged in the process. In project management, The Lighthouse is more like a methodology using GANTT, while The Lantern is more similar to Agile.

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In the first case we articulate our end goal and work backwards from that, in the second we work forwards, iteratively, learning as we go, not sure exactly what the end result may be.

The key thing, as a leader, is touse one or the other. If the fog remains without the leader providing either a Lantern or a Lighthouse – that is when followers doubt, when confidence drains, and when stress levels rise. In most cases (as with Shackleton in the South Pole), the leader will use both.

Leadership is both Strategy and Struggle

‘Leadership’, Kouzes and Posner tell us in The Leadership Challenge, ‘is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.’ The word ‘struggle’ is self-explanatory (and very familiar to all of us I’m sure!) The word ‘aspiration’ is imbued with the concept of an end result or goal.

leadership parable - the lantern and the lighthouse

Leadership is essentially both. Eisenhower said that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. With leadership it’s always the process that matters.

Want to be more confident as a leader? Do this…

If the responsibilities of leadership are too daunting or if you would like to get clear on what followers expect of you, then why not have a look at The Leadership Challenge Workshop? With two or three day options, and most importantly with the skills of the leader trained based on empirical research worldwide into what followers expect of their leaders, this is a must-have programme for anyone in a managerial role.


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