O Captain, It Is Time to Lead

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done; The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won; The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.

- Walt Whitman

On September 20, 1519, Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Spain with five ships and 251 men to complete the first circumnavigation of the globe. Three years later, one of the five ships along with 18 survivors completed the journey, being the first people to accomplish such a daunting task.

Magellan died mid-voyage and never completed his own quest.

Having been on a few cruises, I will admit that more than two days at sea can becoming unnerving. Seeing only water in every direction for days on end can make one yearn for dry ground. After reading the account of Magellan's journey, I discovered that after their departure from Spain, two months were spent sailing across the Atlantic.

That's 60 days at sea.

I wonder at what point during those sixty days did some of the crew begin to doubt the vision of this journey. 20 Days? 40? It might explain why shortly after docking in South America there was a mutiny among the ships against Magellan!


As leaders, we attempt to minimize risk with every decision. "Don't rock the boat,." "If it ain't broke don't fix it." "We've always done it this way." Do these sound familiar?

While the strategy of consistency is beneficial in some areas, like consistently keeping the restrooms clean, we must always be looking ahead for a curve in the road. Do we see a shift in culture coming soon? How should we adapt to accommodate it? What current practices are no longer working and should be revised or eliminated?

With any new venture there is risk, Magellan can certainly attest to that, and there may be casualties along the way, but to stay stagnant means you are the next Polaroid or Blackberry. Sedentary business models beget early obsolescence. Look no further than the closing of 100s of Macy's and Sears department stores.

But it is not enough to try something new for the sake of new, there must be a strong vision behind the change. The "why" must be clearly articulated. I'm not sure what Magellan's vision was exactly, but it was strong enough to survive even after his death. Despite the mutinies, treacherous passages, and hostile natives, 18 men finished the journey on the last of five ships.

As we direct our teams, we should inspire and embed the why of what we do so deep, that the vision will be carried out with or without us.

Magellan's journey around the globe took three years to complete. Can we, as leaders push towards the vision with full investment for even a fraction of that time?