All of the leaders in our research had to let go of an initial dream and come to terms with a more ordinary – yet still satisfactory achievement.  With one exception, they were all seen by their organisations as successful leaders; yet none achieved the transformation they had originally sought.  (31)

By recognising the importance of context, successful leaders begin to see when and how to focus their efforts.  Like experienced yachtsmen, they don’t complain about the weather or deny its significance.  They don’t see the weather as "the problem" and themselves as "the answer".  They acknowledge that they may not be able to take the most direct route.  They study conditions intently and are knowledgeable about the fine detail of the performance of their boats and crews and their achievement under a range of circumstances.  They recognise that sometimes there is little they can do to move forward but they are ready to move quickly when opportunities present themselves.  They are ready for storms and know what they will do to get through them.  They don’t try and conquer the conditions but think about where and how they can harness winds, tides and currents to take them where they want to go.   (56)

The dirty little secret of strategy is that it is only clear with hindsight.  (61)  What distinguishes effective organisations is not the capacity to foresee the future but how effectively they respond to the unexpected when it occurs. (64)

"In this company, we don’t have a vision, we have a hallucination." (66)

One of the findings of our research is how much unfinished business there is around in organisations.  The cases were like battlefields littered with unexploded bombs from past conflicts – the unexpressed feelings about past experiences, many of them going back years. (82)

The most important way forward is for leaders to be more aware of their demons and be willing to understand them – not deny or run away from them.  The demons are the leader’s treasure (as well as her limit).  It is the imperfections that make people useful as leaders, give them their drive and determination, their different way of seeing and doing things.  (85)

For followers, the "healthy disillusionment" often means coming to terms with the leader they have and letting go of the leader they might wish to have in some perfect world.  (94)

Binney, Wilke and Williams, Living Leadership:  A practical guide for ordinary heroes


  1. all very correct, and perfectly true…
    We have to learn to understand and live with the leaders we have, and use their capabilities in a constrained world to achive what is possible. If we can accept these challenges, then maybe we can and should accept a different approach to engagement, communication and ultimately how we can measure success..
    In our constrained world, a more outwardly focused set of initiatives to grow a common understanding, which communicates the issues, provides engagement across the estate, might be a better and more useful approach…( than the secret squirrel approach )…
    Strategy is as much about communication as it is about thought and Vision.
    BTW : Sailing in any competative form requires a clear skipper, who is responsible for the lives of all the crew and passengers. In all circumstances the skipper has to give clear orders and guidence to ensure winds/tides/weather dont cause the destruction of the yacht or endanger the life of the crew. Failure to do this will often cause the crew to loose confidence in the skipper and can lead to catastropohic events.

  2. But crews need the right system of pullies to make the boat behave in the way the skipper wants it to…
    I’ll send you some thoughts on why it is system not structure that is the way to strategic alignment.

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