“Champions get up when they can’t.” Jack Dempsey
As I began to read Kevin Allen’s latest book, I was reminded of the admonition, “Sink or swim.” When an organization encounters a severe crisis, whether or not it survives depends almost entirely on whether or not its leaders can keep it “afloat” and eventually buoyant in the sense that Allen means: “To be sure, decisiveness is a requisite of leadership, but it is not what inspires people to make you float. They see, through your empathy, that you give them as high a priority as you do yourself and that you have created a culture and climate in which they can flourish…Staying buoyant is a process of maintaining readiness, challenging the status quo, listening carefully, and rethinking your assumptions, all while keeping a careful vigil over the desires of your people.”
Long ago Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed to answer a few questions after delivering a lecture on transcendentalism, A grizzled old farmer asked, “How do you transcend an empty stomach?” This what Abraham Maslow had in mind when formulating his “hierarchy of needs” concept. For present purposes, let’s consolidate them in three categories: survival, security, and what he characterizes as “self-actualization.” Organizations as well as people must survive before they can become secure, and secure before they can focus on fulfillment of potentialities.
Allen organizes his material within three Parts: First, “The Case of the Missing Cutlery” is a “true tale,” based on his attempt to solve a serious problem at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he was the young assistant manager of Marriott International’s in-flight services and oversaw a facility that produced up to five thousand airline meals a day. Then, in Part II, he provides “A Course in Buoyancy” during which he explains why leadership “is not a static thing. It is neither sitting nor presiding—it’s going somewhere. Leadership is a journey toward a fantastic goal. So in this spirit, this section takes you on a hero’s journey and breaks down the elements in a leadership path. I’ll connect these principles and tools to ‘The Case of the Missing Cutlery’ to help your practical application. It’s laid out in a course framework, with tasks for you to apply, particularly in your current role, so you can see in live terms how the concepts can work for you.”
In my opinion, Allen is an insightful as well as entertaining business thinker with an insatiable curiosity to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why…and then share what he has learned with as many people as possible. That vision, that sense of mission, drives his efforts to develop the total Buoyant Leader ecosystem. It is based on what he calls the ACTION Model:
o Acknowledge the problem.
o Consider all possibilities.
o Target the cause, not the symptoms.
o Inspire confidence.
o Organize the right team.
o Nominate your catalysts.
Just as Sun Tzu asserts in The Art of War that every battle is won or lost before it is fought, Kevin Allen asserts in this book that every crisis is or isn’t resolved satisfactorily before it occurs. As he explains, “Setbacks are not exceptions; they are an inextricable part of your journey. The secret is not to treat them as wild exceptions. Prepare well and be measured in your response. When setbacks come, and they will, be mindful of your real ambition and that the eyes of your team are upon you.” The Dempsey quote reminds us of the importance of personal courage and determination but mutual respect and trust within an ecosystem of buoyancy are also imperative to overcoming whatever setbacks that may occur.