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  • Writer's pictureJohn Hightower

/ Paddlers, Passengers, Pirates

// PART 4

John Hightower



Crosswinds, tides and currents can knock a ship off course, throw passengers overboard and destroy cargo. Connecting this metaphor to organizations - leaders must navigate the crosswinds, tides and currents that can knock your organization off track. Sometimes those challenges are external and most often they are internal.

The Captain of the ship is always measuring and managing external and internal movements. In the same way, leaders should be measuring external market conditions and the impact those conditions could have on an organization's path. Those external impacts might show up as macroeconomic volatility, disruptions in your specific industry, or local market changes. Ironically it is the internal dynamics that so often knock a ship off course. The internal dynamics show up as team dissension, corporate policy changes, or turnover.

The word “strategy” is rooted in a Greek word "strategia", meaning "office or command of a general.” Developing a strategy to navigate your organization’s conditions can seem daunting and overwhelming. However, steering your ship and capturing the hearts of your crew could be the most important thing you do as a leader. To help coordinate resources and gather insights to create a plan, I would recommend this approach.


Many times we cannot control the outside pressures of the market; however we can be aware of them.

INDUSTRY TRENDS Develop a plan to understand the current trends in your industry. A few areas to explore may include:

  • Trending Technologies and Software

  • Process Improvement and Methodologies

  • Tangential/Complimentary Product and Services

  • Catalog Competitors Information

POSITION ANALYSIS Understanding where your organization sits in your relative market helps identify and chart new strategies and tactics. A traditional SWOT Analysis could be helpful.


Think of this exercise as the start of understanding what trade routes and shipping lanes to explore. List potential organizations you can buy, services you can build out or potential partners to create strategic relationships with to gain market share.


When looking at internal workings of an organization or a team, I like to refer to Serenity Solutions, a play on the Serenity Prayer. As background, an American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is credited for authoring what is commonly referred to as the Serenity Prayer -

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.[1]”

Niebuhr's prayer originally asked for courage first, and specifically for changing things that must be changed, not things that simply can be changed -

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.[3]”

Applying the plan internally to an organization, there are three areas that can either help or hamper navigation of the waters.

POLITICS Often internal politics deter and destroy an organization from efficiently and effectively navigating the seas of business. Patrick Lencioni’s book - Silos, Politics and Turf Wars - is a wonderful guide on how to reduce the impact of politics in your organization. If politics rule the day, progress will be impeded.

STRATEGIC OPERATIONS PLAN Strategic plans are rarely activated due to their complexity, which traditionally comes from over-engineering and lack of clarity. Organizations need to operationalize the strategy with a straightforward plan that is reasonable to execute and understood by everyone in the organization.

When creating strategic plans, we encourage organizations to:

  • Determine the length of time needed for planning

  • Create a cross-functional team to help build, own and implement the plan

  • List big picture themes and objectives

  • Develop initiatives and tasks that can help carry out the themes and objectives

  • Filter the initiatives and tasks through a weighted decision criteria

  • Task cross functional teams with execution of the initiatives

  • Meet rhythmically for progress updates and accountability

CURRENT AND FUTURE STATE MAPPING Execution and innovation are two key elements needed to navigate strategic settings in the competitive business environment. Operationally there are times when a deep dive is needed into a key area to help gather insights and opportunities. These insights can be rolled into a competitive advantage or a needed course-correcting of the trajectory of a current initiative.

Try conducting a Current vs. Future state mapping exercise. When an organization examines itself across the process flow of information and manual steps, insights are illuminated. Traditionally, this sparks innovative solutions - that can reduce costs or accelerate information.


Your team of paddlers can be engaged and empowered to support the organization if there is a clear strategy for them to see. With clarity of the organization’s vision and the path for organizational success it will be an exciting experience for everyone on the journey.

Check back next week for the final installment of Paddlers, Passengers, and Pirates.


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