Progress Through the Fog

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March 2012

Progress Through the Fog
Years ago, a swimmer attempting to be the first to swim from Catalina Island to the coast of California set out in cold waters and dense fog on the morning of July 4, 1952. Every indication was she would indeed have a legitimate shot at this never-before accomplished feat. She already held the record as the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. So Florence Chadwick set out in the numbing cold water that day and in fog that reduced visibility to nearly nothing.

The swim was grueling. Florence continued to strive, overcoming her fatigue as she pressed on through the fog, unable to ascertain her progress. The ache of her muscles and the disorienting exhaustion demanded that her pursuit be ceased. Her trainer tried to encourage her to continue as there was a sense that they were not far from land. Finally, her fatigue won out and she stopped. The swim of more than 15 hours ended in surrender. Sadly, they discovered that she had quit not quite a mile from land. She later reported, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen land I might have made it.” The bottom line is she had no way of knowing what her effort was producing. So she stopped.

You might consider this a tragic story yet this tale gets re-told in many organizations today.

People need to see the end game as well as their own progress toward it. Progress is it. One of the more powerful gifts any executive or leader can give to another is the gift of visible, identifiable progress. Keeping track helps another keep heart. Knowing just how much progress one’s effort has produced puts meaning back into work. You can’t help but wonder how the fatigue and strain on some of the best talent in organizations today could be alleviated were they to have a richer, more illustrative view of their progress.

There is another leadership maxim in the above story of the bold swimmer. There is fog. No way around it, organizational fog does set in. No apologies need to be made either. The organization must; administrate, quality screen, account, set & change goals, report, audit, re-report, govern, set metrics, risk-mitigate, conduct meetings and more. It’s the leader’s job to keep meaning from being killed-off by the whirlwind of tasks and the vision-blinding fog that sometimes settles in over the work.

In their book, The Progress Principle, authors Amabile and Kramer suggest that “making progress in meaningful work” may very well be one of your performers’ core needs, making this one of the more crucial aspects of successful organizational leadership.

Let’s continue this in May. See you then.


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