Finding true north as a leader – What’s your declination?

true north

“North on a map is easy to find (it’s at the top). In most locations in the real world, though, magnetic north (where your needle points) and true north differ by a few degrees: That difference is known as “declination.”

In the continental U.S., declinations vary from 20 degrees east in parts of Washington state to 20 degrees west in parts of Maine. Because a single degree of error can set you off course by 100 feet over a mile, it’s important to accurately adjust for declination.” source

Everything is moving constantly, including magnetic north. Even if I’m standing still, the world is still moving, so I need to make sure I’m constantly rechecking my leadership compass and changing my declination to ensure it’s pointed to True North. Operating without being pointed towards true north leads to polarization, lost time, and lost opportunities.

Most of us depend on GPS to get around in our vehicles these days, but when I go on the Rebelle Rally, a women’s off-road navigation rally raid each year, competitors rely only on a compass to navigate in the right direction to locate check-points and collect points to win. Most people believe a compass points to true north, but I was intrigued to learn that it actually points to magnetic north, until you adjust for declination to point exactly to true north.

Similarly, a business leader’s internal compass helps them navigate to their true north, but each person’s compass is different. Also, situations that arise, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, require leaders to re-evaluate their current location and their true north.

In times of crisis, adjusting for declination may be required more often. At the beginning of 2020, everyone knew true north – it was clearly defined, which made it easier to lead. Then, the world changed overnight, and we all lost our true north.

As the leader of your organization, you need to reset the compass declination of each team member to ensure everyone is traveling towards your company’s true north.

Identifying Your True North

Your purpose drives your internal compass, and likewise, leaders will be driven by the organization’s purpose, your mission statement – this is your true north. Without a mission statement, you don’t know where you’re headed, and without a destination, you can’t lead your team to reach it.

Your mission statement should outline what your organization does, how you do it, who you do it for, and what value you’re providing. Perhaps, your purpose in business is to provide sales, service, repairs and excellent customer service. Effectively conveying this mission informs employees of their purpose within the organization.

Leading Your Team Through Directional Polarization

Polarization (verb): divide or cause to divide into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs. Oxford Dictionary

When people have strong differences of opinion, it can be difficult to point them in the same direction, but it’s common for individuals to have varying perspectives, such as a difference in opinion about the correct procedure or process to handle new customers. While polarization is normal, too many differences can become conflict, which can take your business off-course.

Right now, we are all navigating through extreme polarization, with employees divided on hot topics, such as new roles, responsibilities, processes and procedures. Leaders can combat this polarization using neutral language to provide a common goal that employees can unite behind, such as ensuring a safe environment and excellent service to customers. Identifying the correct path helps keep the entire team directed towards the company’s true north.

Learning to Embrace Paradox

Paradox (noun): a situation, person or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities. Oxford Dictionary

When facing paradox, many people react defensively and treat paradoxes as a problem. Leaders must learn to welcome and appreciate it because paradox can be a good thing – the combination of contradictions can lead to the creation of something better if properly managed, so leaders must learn to hold paradox comfortably.

This means accepting and validating multiple perspectives – even if you don’t agree, you must respect diverse opinions. In the current environment, there’s even more pressure on leaders to hold paradox.

Many leaders are facing the paradox of keeping employees healthy while still needing to make a profit. Leaders who embrace paradox have implemented social distancing requirements and even staggered shifts to meet both needs.

Pointing Your Team to True North

Keeping employees heading in the right direction is best achieved by properly aligning and re-focusing them around your mission. Unifying messages demonstrate consistency, and setting common goals will keep everyone on track.

Alignment around your stated mission helps each employee understand their role within the organization. Most employees want to do the right thing and help their company succeed, but declination is required to point them in the right direction.

Because Earth rotates and situations are constantly moving, including the current business climate, the angle of declination changes over time, and without adjusting for declination, navigating to your intended destination is impossible. Without re-calibrating their compass, some employees will work towards one thing, while others focus on a different end goal.

Leaders must be able to articulate the organization’s mission clearly to help employees navigate to your company’s true north. Make goals that are relevant to employees, seek feedback, and hold regular meetings to reinforce your vision.

Did you enjoy this article from Jody Devere? Read other articles from her here.

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