The Law of Navigation

Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course — John C. Maxwell
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Reflections on John C. Maxwell’s “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”

A leader can see the full picture of where the company is headed. They may not see every bump in the road or crack in the pavement, but they prepare for the unexpected.

One such leader was Roald Amundsen, whom we discussed in our previous blog, Polar Opposites. Amundsen prepared his team for a brutal expedition to the South Pole. He outlived his British counterpart because of his ability to navigate his team through treacherous terrain.

Toys R Us Lost Their Map

A childhood-crushing day came in 2017 when Toys R Us announced that it was going to close its “brick and mortar” stores. As a millennial child, I remember growing up with the Toys R Us magazine, flipping through it to circle all of the toys I wanted to put on my Christmas list. I cherished being invited to friend’s birthday parties because that meant my parents got to take me to Toys R Us. I would just run around the warehouse playing with everything and anything (except the clothes).

While Toys R Us remained steady since 1948 in charting the course for providing toys and games, it lost its map in the early 2000s. The company had explored everything it could in that realm of service, but a new expedition was on the horizon that company leaders did not plan to examine properly. It was called the Experience Economy. Consumers were shifting from a service economy, where customers were loyal to services with products, to something focused on interactive experiences, how those products make consumers feel.

Build-A-Bear Workshop picked up on this as did Apple. Their stores create an immersive experience, inspiring droves of people to flood into the sensory boosting encounter. Disney, as another example, changed its retail locations to feel like an extension of Disney World. Have you ever gone to a Disney retail store minutes before it opens? There is usually a line of people waiting outside. The door is roped off with a large lock and chain in the shape of Mickey. A Cast Member comes out front to tell the kids (and Adults) waiting that they lost the key! He pulls them into the experience of looking for a gigantic Mickey key, which happens to be placed in an easy to spot to find. Everyone gets excited then to open the store!

Toys R Us did not innovate in this way. They were pioneers in the toy industry, but due to poor leadership decisions, like deciding to pay off their private equity backers instead of innovating, they failed to chart the course for the next generation of shoppers.

The StoryTether

If we want to lead well, then we must become like Amundsen, spending the critical time, effort, and energy studying all the details of the new terrain. If we skip these necessary steps, then we will lead our team and our organizations into a freezing blizzard that we cannot navigate out.

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