One of the most inspiring leaders we have ever met is Dame Ellen MacArthur. Her work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a long way from her exploits when she was one of the world’s greatest sailors.
‘Something that I learnt through sailing was to look at the big picture,’ she told us. ‘When you’re sailing a boat around the world you’re not just looking at the boat speed and the waves around you, you’re looking at what’s coming in two hours, two days, two weeks. You’re looking at how far north or south you want to be, you’re looking at the sea temperature, the depth of the water, the five hundred charts to see what the weather’s doing. To understand where you are in this you need to see the big picture.’
The organizational world with its myriad of differing agendas and priorities represents an enormous change from the certainties – albeit dangerous ones – of racing from A to B in a yacht or sailing around the world in the fastest time. ‘Yes, but it’s just a different racecourse,’ counters MacArthur. ‘The winner of the race is not necessarily the fastest sailor. The winner of the race is someone who is a fast sailor but is also able to keep the boat on track, maintain their energy levels throughout three months, is able to look at and understand the weather, make the decisions, repair the boat, repair themselves. It’s a whole range of skills.’
Ellen MacArthur is a master of many skills, but one of the clearest is one which is central to modern leadership: being able to move from the short term to the long term – constantly. Leaders have to master the art of zooming in and zooming out at the right times.
Extract from page 135 of 'What we mean when we talk about leadership'