Updraft: A book review by Bob Morris

Updraft: The Aerodynamics of Great Leadership 1st Edition
Jacquelyn Freedman
Station Square Media (June 2017)

Valuable business lessons to be learned from migratory geese

One of the lessons to be learned from the Gurkha guides who accompany those attempting to reach the summit of Mount Everest is that attitude is altitude. This is a perspective that Henry Ford had in mind when suggesting, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” That is assuredly what Jacquelyn Freedman has in mind when asserting that leadership “is the ability to supercharge an organization’s most important asset — its people” by creating updraft for them. That is, by creating an updraft for others that will enable them to “fly” higher and farther than they otherwise could.

Freedman suggests a superb example: migratory geese. Flying in a v-formation “allows them to fly farther and faster, cruising along at speeds of 40 to 50 mph and even reaching 70 mph with a tailwind.” Survival depends on reaching their destination. Obviously, “their ability to make progress up to 1,500 miles in a single day cannot be underestimated.” They take turns leading their flock, cheering on each leader. Their collective effort reminds me of an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

What Freedman characterizes as “the aerodynamics of great leadership” are best understood if the workforce is viewed as flock. There are countless other examples of consummate teamwork in the natural world (e.g. bees) but none that is more relevant than migrating geese. Keep that thought in mind as you absorb and digest Freedman’s key points that include these:

o “High levels of personal integrity contribute enormously in making you a person who others want to follow.”
o “Even the smallest act of trust requires some degree of vulnerability.”
o “It is not unusual for CEOs, directors and others in leadership positions to confuse military-style obedience with loyalty.”
o “Personal values are passionately held convictions that stem from the very essence of who you are and how you define yourself.”
o “Strengths and weaknesses must always be assessed against the requirements of the role and the needs of the organization.”

Three questions are posed within Jacquelyn Freedman’s final thoughts:

“Are you ready to soar?”
“Are you ready to watch your organization make progress like you never thought possible?”
“Are you ready to enjoy being a leader?”

These are excellent questions. Here are two others, posed by Hillel the Elder: “If not now, when? If not you, who?”

Updraft is like Shakespeare’s rising tide: “It lifts all boats.” “It sustains all migrating geese.” If you don’t want to share leadership of your flock, fine. Start honking while you flap your wings.

Great leaders can only fly as high and as far as they have inspired their followers to go. This is precisely what Lao-tse has in mind in this passage in Tau te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

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