Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why We Build Lighthouses

I got the idea of building a "lighthouse" from a great quote that some employees shared with me when I worked at my last "corporate" role.

The idea is to create a vision or an idea that clarifies things for people.
I had a colleague on LinkedIn ask the question the other day - What Do You Do? I responded that I build virtual "lighthouses". She followed up with a question saying "Do you mean you turn people's thinking on?" My answer is I hope so.

I believe that people are the most important resource that any organizations possesses and that the foundation of all relationships is trust. I know some people would say that love makes the world go around, but I can love somebody and not want to do business with them. If I can't trust them there is no basis for the relationship to continue.

I had a discussion with one of my proteges the other day about a relationship she was discouraged about. She was questioning whether or not her time with the organization had come to an end. She felt that she didn't trust her supervisor, her supervisor didn't trust her, and she wasn't sure that she trusted the Executive Team.
I told her I couldn't and wouldn't make the decision for her, but for me that was a sign of time to depart.

Building a lighthouse is about what Marcus Buckingham calls clarity. He says that clarity is the most important quality of a leader- to be able to answer the questions-
  • What do we do?
  • Why does it matter?
  • How do I fit in?

I think he is right, that's what we want from our leaders- clarity. Clarity leads to trust.

It is interesting to see how uncomfortable we remain with the concept of trust and relationships. When you look at organizations that "specialize" in change management they talk a lot about processes, and technology, and ERP and stuff like that. They don't talk very much about trust and relationships.

I talked about the fact that a national study showed that 40% of new managers fail in their first 18 months in the new role. The biggest reason- failure to build relationships and trust. I'm not very good with technology so I guess that I will just keep trying to build lighthouses and relationships.

I'll leave you with another quote from Margaret Wheatly-

In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacity to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.

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Anonymous Tammy Redmon said...

This is great Mark,

The analogy of the lighthouse is very rich! May I offer that the clarity piece (a form of light) is essential to staying on the path we were created for, the one we were designed to take. The more clarity we have in our life, about our core being or essence of true self, the brighter the path.

August 28, 2008 6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really good. Again you touch on what is really important and that is trust. But how do you build that trust? It comes from clarity. This is a perfect example of my current situation. I have a new boss, and he is still learning how to manage and lead people. There is not always clarity. Clarity on expectations or clarity on the “how” or “what.” Because there is this lack of clarity, I am cautions on sometimes what I say, or what information I provide. And I do that because there is not this trust build. I don’t have clarity on his motivation or agenda, which in turn, causes me to tread softly on certain things.

August 29, 2008 9:38 AM  
Anonymous The KindExcellence blog said...

Dear Mark,

What a beautiful analogy.

I remember you saying elsewhere that in being a lighthouse you are not holding people's hand and brining them to shore, you are giving them direction, a point of reference but they still need to sail their own ship.

I like that a lot. I think we tend to take responsibility away from managers and employees by making choices for them and giving them the answers. If we do, however will they master learning how to make decisions?

On the other hand, if they try to learn without a point of reference they may have a weak feedback loop and learning may be in the wrong direction (false conclusions).

I think a lighthouse is just the right balance: standing there for a constant sense of direction and as a reality check, but letting sailors learn how to navigate by their own senses.

Thank you for a wonderful post.


August 29, 2008 10:33 AM  
Blogger MBU - Spreading Strategy said...

Thanks to all of you. Just great!


September 18, 2008 2:55 AM  
Blogger megan shultz said...

The “lighthouse” concept requires that leaders put their egos aside and that followers are empowered to take ownership. I know for myself that I believed in the power of “me” and that this line of thinking will hinder the growth, sustainability and future of CASA. I must move from being an island to becoming a lighthouse. I must acknowledge that and understand that the transformation is not isolated to my personal growth but must permeate to those who surround me. I believe you are on to something with the “lighthouse” concept.It is definitely worth exploring and throwing out there to the world.

September 23, 2008 2:25 PM  
Blogger Boom said...


I like this use of the lighthouse. In the past I have thought of the lighthouse as being what it is, a beacon, a finite point in space that defines a destination. A metaphor for our future end-state.

"Where are we going?"
"To the lighthouse."

Easily understood and articulated, the lighthouse defines success and gives a measure of safety and confidence.

The lighthouse defines the commander's intent, the "after the smoke clears, what should this battlefield look like? what should have taken place?" The lighthouse helps us define our strategy, our BIG BLUE ARROW of direction.

In your words, the lighthouse provides CLARITY. And clarity is something every leader is responsible to provide and every teammate needs to have in order to navigate troubled waters.

Thanks for the great post Mark, and thanks for the invitation to pitch in,

Check Six,


November 16, 2008 8:29 PM  

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