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I have a Great Dane named Ziva whom I take for daily walks. However, the only time we can walk is at 5:30 AM when, at that time, it is very dark outside.  I live in the countryside so there’s a street light at the beginning of the road, one at the end of the road, and a lot of dark dirt road in between.  One day there was no moon and it was cloudy and so very, very murky!

I was standing under the streetlight and I could see everything very clearly. I could see the direction in which we needed to go. As I walked out of the light and into the dark, I noticed a little bit of that primordial fear of the unknown. We have many coyotes and a few bears, none of which I expect to approach us.  Yet there’s that visceral reaction to the dark. Then I began thinking about how leadership is like walking in the dark. Sometimes change is needed and we just have to step into the dark not knowing what will happen or what the results will be.  The great leaders are the ones who take that step, experience that visceral reaction, and then take that next step, despite the churning gut. I guess some have so much conviction and confidence that their gut doesn’t churn at all! I rely on my gut as my compass, so having a churning gut isn’t a terrible thing to me. It must be understood and sometimes heeded as it can prevent me from making huge mistakes.

Eventually our eyes adjust to the dark and we begin to see signs that we’re walking in the right direction. I trip on an unseen branch and the leash attached to Ziva’s tall frame stops me from falling. Even the most fearless leaders can miss seeing things and need to rely on someone. That someone can be a lifeline, a person who also believes in us, and can support us when needed. We can see the light ahead so it looks like we’re headed in the right direction. We finally get to the light and have some clarity, but we know we’re not done. We’re not home yet, but we can rest a minute in the light until we’re clear about our next steps. Then, we’re off again on the next leg of our journey with increased confidence.  Successful leaders know how to take things in chunks and build strength and experience for the next part of their journey.  Ziva and I head off for the next light. Eventually we get home, our task is completed, and the relationship stronger.

What makes a good leader? Clarity about the change that is needed, knowledge about the landscape, attention to gut feelings, courage, and a big old Great Dane to lean on! We really can’t do it alone; building solid relationships means being authentic influencers, which so many of us struggle with when it is hard to connect. Sometimes, we just need to walk together into the darkness, trusting that each will effectively play their role, and that we’re all in this together. We human beings need to do this on many levels, and we struggle to do it with the dearest people in our lives. Be a leader and repair a damaged relationship today so that when the time comes, you’re prepared to walk into the darkness together.

Written by Sherri Malouf
President of Situation Management Systems, Inc.