A Leader Reads


Join me as I focus a leadership lens on fantasy books and series. Current Series: The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson) Contact me: s10473@protonmail.com

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The Shadow Rising - Chapter 5 [#123]

Stubborn Stupid

    Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne continue to masquerade as full Aes Sedai; interrogating the two captured Black Ajah Sisters.  Moiraine seems to have delegated this task to the three women, for purposes she keeps to herself.  Despite the importance of their task - drawing forth intelligence to piece together the Black Ajah's plan - Egwene and Nynaeve still continue their squabble.

    Elayne usually smoothed things over when it came to this, as it did more often than it should.  By the time Egwene thought of smoothing matters herself, she had almost always dug in her heels and flared back, and trying to be soothing then would only be backing down.  That was how Nynaeve would see it, she was sure.  She could not remember Nynaeve ever making any move to back down, so why should she?  This time Elayne was not there; Moiraine had summoned the Daughter-Heir with a word and a gesture to follow the Maiden who had come for the Aes Sedai.  Without her, the tension stretched, each of the Accepted waiting for the other to blink first.  Aviendha barely breathed; she kept herself strictly out of their confrontations.  No doubt she considered it simple wisdom to stand clear.

Egwene, The Shadow Rising, p. 83

    This little spat is still going strong.  Egwene blames Nynaeve for her response, to justify her own similar response.  The two are falling victim to the idea that backing down means giving up completely.  Not at all the case; Egwene could back down from the current position to maneuver around to a more suitable one and re-engage.  Since each is holding so tightly to their current position, they are left open to other arguments from other angles. 

    Or, simpler still, Egwene just needs to put her hat in her hands (so to speak) and make the offer to come to an agreement.  It's much harder - admitting wrongdoing, asking for help - all seem to imply a position of weakness.  Not at all true.  Most people, once asked, will spend a great deal of effort in teaching whatever skill is needed.  This happened to me in my shipyard days.  Part of my job was to qualify in a particular position; it wasn't an overly challenging qualification, it was simply uninteresting to me.  And I had had some less than positive interactions with the lead qualifier.   So I procrastinated.  Until I was left with mere weeks to complete it.  I went to the lead qualifier and simply asked for his help.  To my utter surprise, he bent over backwards to help; starting that very minute.  I had let something fester that I had no need to; simply out of my own stubbornness.  As it turns out, he became one of my biggest advocates in obtaining that qualification - so I really was my own worst enemy.  All I had to do was just ask.

The Shadow Rising - Chapter 4 [#122]

Character Development: Thom

    Following the episode with the killer cards, Mat seeks out Thom to discuss plans for leaving.  Their discussion reveals a tremendous amount of loyalty that Thom shows for the Emond's Fielders. 

    Why had he not left Tear himself long since?  Much the wisest thing to.  Hundreds of villages lay lout there, waiting for a gleeman to entertain and amaze them.  And each with an inn or two full of wine to drown memories.  But if he did, Rand would have no one except Moiraine to keep the High Lords from maneuvering him into corners, and maybe cutting his throat.  She could do it, of course.  Using different methods than his.  He thought she could.  She was Cairhienin, which meant she had probably taken in the Game of Houses with her mother's milk.  And she would tie another string to Rand for the White Tower while she was about it.  Mesh him in an Aes Sedai net so strong he would never escape.

Thom, The Shadow Rising, p. 77

    If he was caught, too, Thom decided, it would be worth it to help one man, at least, keep free of Aes Sedai.  Worth it, to make a payment on that fifteen-year-old debt.

Thom, The Shadow Rising, p. 79

    Thom is wracked by guilt from what happened to his nephew fifteen years ago.  While Thom seems to prefer to assist Rand, because of his ability to channel, Thom is just as eager to help the other two escape from the grasp of the White Tower, as he sees it.  From being a random visitor to Emond's Field fleeing Trollocs on Winternight, Thom finds his care for the boys far exceeding any amount of wine that he could drown himself in.  I don't think it's just Thom's guilt driving him, he puts in too much effort in his tactics within the Game of Houses.  He genuinely cares for the three boys, despite what he may tell himself.

The Shadow Rising - Chapter 3 [#121]


    Perrin reaches Rand's rooms in time to get the Aiel guarding the door to find Moiraine for Healing.  She arrives just in time to keep Rand from bleeding to death from the wound in his side taken at Falme.  Rand's rooms are crowded with bystanders: Perrin, Lan, and Rhuarc, with other Aiel just at the doors. 

    Rhuarc surveyed the room with sharp blue eyes, as if he suspected enemies hiding behind a drape or an overturned chair.  The clan chief of the Taardad Aiel had no visible weapon except the heavy-bladed knife at his waist, but he carried authority and confidence like weapons, quietly, yet as surely as if they were sheathed alongside the knife.

Rhuarc, The Shadow Rising, p. 69

    "Don't try to harry me, Moiraine."  He was blood filthy, half naked, more than half leaning on Callandor to stay sitting up, but he managed to fill those words with quiet command.

Rand, The Shadow Rising, p. 73

    Both Rhuarc and Rand have an expectation of obedience - the quiet confidence that radiates from them.  For Rhuarc, it's likely from many years as a clan chief; overcoming challenges for the survival of his clan.  For Rand, it's less on such experience, and more the comfort in the knowledge that, with Callandor, he has the authority to back the expectation.  He's still struggling to find his way, but has settled on the path of accepting his role as Dragon Reborn.  That takes a burden off his shoulders and allows him to assume the role and all the expectations that go with it.  There is a certain comfort from accepting a task that lays the foundation for continued confidence in its execution.

The Shadow Rising - Chapter 2 [#120]

Leadership Development: Mat

    With Tear only a month under the Dragon Reborn's rule, the three Emond's Fielders have settled into a somewhat quieter routine.  Until the fabric of reality parts and the the three face variations of themselves and their habits that make a concerted effort to kill them.  Perrin gets attacked by his own axe, the deck of cards comes alive in Mat's hands with knives flashing for him, and Rand faces mirror images of himself with swords bared to kill. Just prior to that, Mat has an interesting dialogue with some of the other lords of Tear.

    "Didn't I say?"  The plain-faced man squinted at his cards and scratched his head, then brightened.  "Oh, yes.  His proclamation, Mat.  The Lord Dragon's.  His last one.  Where he said commoners had the right to call lords before a magistrate.  Who ever heard of a lord being summoned to a magistrate?  And for peasants!"

    Mat's hand tightened on his purse until the coins inside grated together.  "It would be a shame," he said quietly, "if you were tried and judged just for having your way with a fisherman's daughter whatever she wanted, or for having some farmer beaten for splashing mud on your cloak."

Mat and Lord Estean, The Shadow Rising, p. 49

    Despite Mat's bluster and exterior as a gambler and risk taker, he has a strong sense of justice and equality.  I suspect it's due to his upbringing; but likely also his traveling companions and recent experiences.  Despite Moiraine's status as Aes Sedai, she never mistreated any of the Emond's Fielders, or any other people they've encountered over the previous three books.  She treats everyone with respect and courtesy, regardless of social stature.  The same can be said about Thom.  Mat's interaction with Queen Morgase, provided Mat a glimpse of how rulers are capable of behaving; so to have lordlings behaving counter to that standard, just because of their social status, leads to Mat's subtle comment.  Mat continues to mature, and develop solid principles for his own leadership style.

The Shadow Rising - Chapter 1 [#119]

The Most Dangerous Phrase In Any Language

    A series first: no prologue! Just jumping right into the action.  Min arrives at the White Tower, seeking an audience with the Amyrlin Seat.  As she is led through the halls, her ability to see the future shows a bleak picture of battle inside the halls of the White Tower.  In her discussion with the Amyrlin, Min reveals that the plans Moiraine and the Amyrlin laid have not snared Rand enough.  He's unpredictable and bringing change.

    "I'll take the risk; maybe I can help him.  With what I see.  It isn't even as if the Tower would be that much safer, not so long as there is one Red sister here.  They'll see a man who can channel and forget the Last Battle, and the Prophecies of the Dragon."

    "So will many others," Siuan broke in calmly.  "Old ways of thinking are hard to shed, for Aes Sedai as for anyone else."

Min and Siuan Sanche, The Shadow Rising, p. 27

    Unfortunately, change usually gets viewed as a threat.  It is a threat - to the status quo.  People within organizations view it as a threat because there is a great deal of uncertainty involved in implementing change within that organization.  As creatures of habit, we become accustomed to the routine of the current state.  Small perturbations, those get filed in the "annoying, but we have a process to deal with that" bin.  Larger changes, however, usually get met with the most dangerous phrase in any language: "but, we've always done it this way."  This is one of the most frustrating responses to come up against as a leader.  To start with, it's not even remotely true; as the organization hasn't always done it any specific way.  If that were the case, we'd be stuck in the Stone Age, working on developing the wheel.  More frustrating, however, is the fact that the people that choose this paradigm don't even acknowledge the possibility of change being positive - for their own benefit.  They ignore the fact that, as a person, they themselves have changed, evolved and been formed by their experiences.  The mentality that "we've always done it this way" doesn't just halt change, it drives the organization in reverse.  It becomes narrow-minded, losing focus on the strategic picture in favor of protecting a small aspect of the organization.  It is the mentality of failure.  A tremendous amount of energy is required to overcome this inertia.  Working within the "accepted" small perturbations is a good place to start.  Start small, build momentum, and gradually larger steps can be taken. 

The Wheel of Time - Interlude IV [#118]

    Three down, eleven to go.  The next is a turning point, where we see Rand begin to fully accept the mantle of Dragon Reborn and start to embark on the path to unite mankind against the Dark One.  He's more or less done running away from his responsibility, and is now trying to define himself to the role.  The rest of the Emond's Fielders mimic this overall arc, accepting their responsibility and choosing how they will execute their duties.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 55 & 56 [#117]

Indomitable Spirit

    In the final two chapters, the Emond's Fielders showcase their ability to fight through to success.  Perrin frees illusion after illusion of Faile, before finally breaking the hedgehog ter-angreal trap in a room thousands of falcons (reminds me of the flying key scene in Harry Potter - but with falcons).  He wakes up cut and bleeding back in the room of the inn.  Egwene tirelessly works through the World of Dreams to shut her captors off from the Source.  Mat and Juilin arrive in time to free them physically and then all continue on in their hunt for Liandrin.  Rand pulls Callandor free and turns the tables, becoming the Ba'alzamon's hunter.  Their battle twists the fabric of reality on the fly, reminiscent of Inception.  Above all, they fight through to success; no matter the odds or the cost.  

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 54 [#116]

A Convergence

    Now the pace of the book picks up - hurtling all the Emond's Fielders towards the Stone of Tear.  Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne are already imprisoned there.  Mat, with a guilt-ridden Juilin Sandar, circles the Stone, searching from every possible vantage for a way in prior to detonating all his fireworks and making his own door.  Rand freeclimbs the entire dizzying height in his quest for Callandor.  Perrin searches the Stone's shadow in the World of Dreams for Faile.  The common theme: all are taking action.

  • Rand has been almost insanely myopic in his drive to reach Tear and obtain Callandor.  With no way to use a traditional entrance, he climbs the wall of the Stone and makes his way across the ramparts to get inside.
  • Mat spends long hours circling the Stone; finding barred gates and armed guards.  A chance meeting with Sandar provides a possible avenue to enter, using the same small gate other thief-catchers use with criminals in tow.  Mat elects to detonate his remaining fireworks cache as a means to add a generous amount of chaos and confusion.
  • Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve are shielded, but Egwene stumbles on a loophole provided by the World of Dreams.  Using her ter-angreal, she finds their Black Ajah jailer in the World of Dreams and shields her.
  • Perrin and Hopper search the infinite maze of iterations of the Stone of Tear in their quest to find Faile and free her.

All the OODA Loops are moving forward; driving reactions from their foes.  Reacting itself isn't a place of weakness, but it does limit the choices available.  Action beats inaction; and reaction.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 53 [#115]

He Is The Brute Squad

    Moiraine, Perrin, Lan, Faile and Loial plot their next move against the Forsaken, Be'lal, leading Tear.  Liandrin and her cohorts strike first, leaving a tiny ter-angreal trap with the innkeeper.  Intending to snare Moiraine into the World of Dreams, Faile was first to trigger it.  Moiraine and Lan depart to surprise Be'lal, leaving Perrin and Loial with the unconscious Faile.

    [Perrin] was surprised when Loial growled.

    "No! Perrin, it is not right!  Faile was so free.  It is not right to trap her!"

    Perrin peered up at Loial's face, and suddenly remembered the old stories that claimed Ogier were implacable enemies.  Loial's ears had laid back along the sides of his head, and his broad face was as hard as an anvil.

    "Loial, I am going to try to help Faile.  But I will be helpless myself while I do.  Will you guard my back?"

    Loial raised those huge hands that held books so carefully, and his thick fingers curled as if to crush stone.  "None will pass me while I live, Perrin.  Not Myrddraal or the Dark One himself."  He said it like a simple statement of fact.

Perrin and Loial, The Dragon Reborn, p. 535

    Loial's statement at the end is one of my favorites in this book (and probably in all three thus far).  Before Perrin's very eyes, Loial transforms from a bookish scholar to a one man army.  Perrin may be helpless, but he's definitely not alone here.  Loial fully supports Perrin's rescue attempt, even if he's unsure of the full details.  His task is to protect Perrin and Faile, and he will execute it, flawlessly, for as long as he stands.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 52 [#114]

As Simple As That

        Startled, [Ailhuin] touched her cheek, not seeming to know whether to look at the coins or at [Mat].  "Get them out, you say.  Just like that.  Out of the Stone."  Abruptly she stabbed him in the ribs with a finger as hard as a tree stub.  "You remind me of my husband, Mat Cauthon.  He was a headstrong fool who would sail into the teeth of a gale and laugh, too.  I could almost think you'll manage it."

Ailhuin and Mat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 527

    Emotions are infectious.  Confidence, despair, anger, for example, can rapidly spread through a team.  Mat's enthusiasm and relief at finding the location of Nynaeve, Elayne and Egwene enables him to simplify his mission to "Get them out.  That's all I have to do."  It's an honest simplification; not a measure of brashness for the sake of showing off.  For Mat, it's the first step down the road of the impossible.

    Organizations facing change, or trying to implement change, need to take similar measures.  Confidence, enthusiasm, eagerness at the prospect of change and the possibilities the new path provides are infectious.  For leaders, always in the spotlight, it's important to remember this and recognize that the workforce responds to those subtle non-verbal and emotional cues.  Behind closed doors, disagreement with the direction or implementation is fine (in most cases, it's encouraged); but standing tall in front of the workforce requires a unified front with a positive message and some confident swagger.  Breaking the task into multiple smaller components is a way to develop that swagger in the workforce.  Over time, all those tiny steps take the organization a great deal farther than they originally believed.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 51 [#113]

'Til Shade Is Gone

    Juilin Sandar, the thieftaker hired by Nynaneve, Elayne and Egwene, is successful in finding Liandrin and the others.  Unfortunately, Liandrin got to him first, and sprung a trap on the three women.  Egwene, never once forgetting her torment at the hands of the Seanchan, fought until she was unconscious.  Elayne, gave a fair account of herself as well, despite the pampered upbringing of a Daughter-Heir.  Nynaeve fought until she crumpled; not quite unconscious, but close.  Then they kept fighting.

    Nynaeve ached to do something for Egwene, but she let herself be pushed out into the street.  She made them push her; it was a small way of fighting back, refusing to cooperate, but it was all she had at the moment.

Nynaeve, The Dragon Reborn, p. 519

    Bait? For what? For who?  "You are the fool, Liandrin!  Do you think we are here alone?  Only three of us, and not even full Aes Sedai?  We are bait, Liandrin.  And you have walked into the trap like a fat grouse."

    "Do not tell her that!"  Elayne said sharply, and Nynaeve blinked before she realized Elayne was helping her fabrication.  "If you let your anger get the best of you, you will tell them what they must not hear.  They must take us inside the Stone.  They must - "

    "Be quiet!" Nynaeve snapped.  "You are letting your tongue run away with you!"  Elayne managed to look abashed behind her bruises.  Let them chew on that, Nynaeve thought.

Nynaeve and Elayne, The Dragon Reborn, p. 520

    Sometimes plans fall apart completely.  Situations change, and sometimes the change is so drastic that the only option is to create a new set of options.  Failure is an integral part of learning.  Success is merely noted on the drive forward to keep the momentum going.  Pausing to reflect on the how and why behind the success is usually not done until the very end in the leaders' memoirs.  Failure, on the other hand, is studied from all facets to ensure it's not repeated on the next try.  And the key is to keep trying; to keep attacking. 

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 49 & 50 [#112]

Leader Development: Loial

    While Mat makes short work of Gaebril's agent, Comar, Moiraine, Perrin, Faile, Lan and Loial arrive in Tear.  The Forsaken are hiding in plain sight amongst the rulers, first Illian, now in Tear.  

    "Be quiet," Moiraine told [Faile] sharply.  "One of the Forsaken in in Tear.  The High Lord Samon is Be'lal."  Perrin shivered.
    Loial squeezed his eyes shut and groaned.  "I could have remained in the stedding.  I would probably have been very happy, married, whoever my mother chose.  She is a fine woman, my mother, and she would not give me to a bad wife."  His ears seemed to have hidden themselves completely in his shaggy hair.
    "You can go back to Stedding Shangtai," Moiraine said.  "Leave now, if you wish.  I will not stop you."
    Loial opened one eye.  "I can go?"
    "If you wish," she said.
    "Oh."  He opened the other eye, and scratched his cheek with blunt fingers the size of sausages.  "I suppose ... I suppose ... if I have a choice ... that I will stay with all of you.  I have taken a great many notes, but not nearly enough to complete my book, and I would not like to leave Perrin, and Rand -"

Moiraine and Loial, The Dragon Reborn, p. 508 - 509

    At this point, Loial's moans whenever the situation turns dire are somewhat comical.  Yet, of Moiraine's companions, Loial is the only one to whom she gives the choice of leaving.  Perrin, Mat and Rand, are central to the effort against the Dark One.  Even Faile was forced to swear an oath to serve and obey Moiraine; and now Faile knows too much to fly free.  What is impressive, is that, despite the moans, groans and leaps into pessimism, Loial elects to stay.  When given the choice, he freely chooses to stay.  For his book, of course, is the outer shell of it; it seems he has strong sense of duty.  Aptly named, indeed, is Loial.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 48 [#111]

Leader Development: Nynaeve al'Meara

    Despite spending the ship ride from Jurene seasick, the three women arrive in Tear.  The odd fued between Nynaeve and Egwene is ongoing, mostly out of pride and ego at this point.  As they begin their search for Liandrin and the rest in earnest, Nynaeve recognizes the danger of being predictable and staying at an inn.

    "'Not an inn," Nynaeve said as firmly as she guided the stallion; she never seemed to let the animal get out of her control.  After a moment, she moderated her tone a little.  "Liandrin, at least, knows us, and we have to assume the others do, too.  They will surely be watching the inns for whoever followed the trail they sprinkled behind them.  I mean to spring their trap in their faces, but not with us inside.  We'll not stay at an inn."

Nynaeve, The Dragon Reborn, p. 472

    Nynaeve decides to play to her own strengths in finding a place for them to stay.  Crisscrossing the poorer sections of Tear, she finally finds the house of a local Wise Woman, Ailhuin; equivalent to Nynaeve's Wisdom status back in the Two Rivers.  Using her own seasickness as an icebreaker, she starts immediately to find common ground with Ailhuin.

    They settled down as if testing each other, tossing questions and answeres back and forth faster and faster.  Sometimes the questioning lagged a moment when one spoke of a plant the other knew only by another name, but they picked up speed again, arguing the merits of tinctures against teas, salves against poultices, and when one was better than another.  Slowly, all the quick questions begain shifting toward the herbs and roots one knew that the other did not, digging for knowledge.  Egwene began to grow irritable listening.

Nynaeve and Ailhuin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 476

    Nynaeve's effort in building a common foundation with Ailhuin pays off as the Wise Woman is content to share her home with the three women.  Taking the additional hour or two to connect with Ailhuin earns a big payoff.  By comparison, Egwene's impatience no doubt would have led to a much more direct confrontation without the same level of success.  It's difficult to dial back that drive to make substantial progress and make an honest effort to connect with the team, but it's critical to actually building and creating a team.  It was probably one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn.  I'm not particularly outgoing, so that was the biggest part - becoming more sociable, walking around asking questions, talking to folks about stuff other than work - all of it is still leadership.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 47 [#110]

Leader Development: Thom Merrilin

    Thom's maintained a somewhat unobtrusive presence in the background since the leaving Mat and Rand in The Eye of the World.  He made an appearance in The Great Hunt, but went off on his own.  Now he's roped back in with Mat and starts to showcase his expertise when Mat explains to Thom and Basel that Lord Gaebril intends to have Elayne killed.

    "Rumor."  Thom rubbed the side of his nose; he seemed to be studying the stones board and talking to himself.  "No one can keep rumors from reaching Morgase's ears, and if she hears it strongly enough, she will start to wonder.  Rumor is the voice of the people, and the voice of the people often speaks truth.  Morgase knows that.  There is not a man alive I would back against her in the Game.  Love or no love, once Morgase starts examining Gaebril closely, he'll not be able to hide as much as his childhood scars from her.  And if she learns he means harm to Elayne" - he placed a stone on the board; it seemed an odd placement at first glance, but Mat saw that in three more moves, a third of Gill's stones would be trapped - "Lord Gaebril will have a most elaborate funeral."
Thom, The Dragon Reborn, p. 464 - 465

    Thom has a keen sense for the inner workings of organizations; with a strategic guile to match.  Rumor and perception are a fact of life in leading organizations.  Understanding how it works can shift the advantage to the leader who can see three or more moves ahead.  More importantly, however, is a leader's duty to counter the rumor mill with fact.  Depending on the organization and it's culture, this may mean lots of repetition; answering the same question, revisiting the same change proposal, again and again.  It can be exhausting; but it can't be ignored, else the issues will fester and magnify, damaging the overall effort.  


The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 46 [#109]

The Bloody Garden Wall Again

    Following his failure at the main entrance, Mat changes his attack and climbs the cliff-facade that Rand climbed during their first visit to Caemlyn in The Eye of the World.  As before, it yields a successful entry to the palace garden (without the embarassment of Rand's fall).  As he makes his way towards the palace, Mat overhears two men plotting to have Elayne killed on her way to Tear.  Mat encounters Tallanvor, who escorts him directly to Queen Morgase.  

    This whole chapter is an allegory against attacking entrenched positions.  Be it an actual, physical fortification, or merely a metaphorical one based on a particularly contentious topic, finding a way to 'yes' means finding a way around the main gate to the garden wall.  Part of it is meeting somewhere in the middle, showing Elayne's letter in hand so to speak.  Part of it is remaining humble, recalling that you may not necessarily know everything about the issue.  Generally, it's not productive to point out where the other position is wrong, that gets people to dig in deeper.  After all, it's worked this way for years, how can it be wrong?  As mentioned yesterday, asking questions can be disarming, getting people to talk and pull out details that hadn't been considered or get to the true heartache of the situation.  Above all, just keep attacking from every angle; find the route to the top of the garden wall.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 45 [#108]

What's In A Question?

    Arriving in Caemlyn, Mat splits from Thom in his haste to rid himself of Elayne's letter.  This attempt fails spectacularly as Mat is forced away from the main gate to the palace at a gallop.

    Fool, he thought, meaning the fat officer, then added another for himself.  All I had to do was say her bloody name in the beginning.  "Elayne, the Daughter-Heir of Andor, sends this letter to her mother, Queen Morgase."  Light, who could have thought they'd think that way about Tar Valon.  From what he remembered of his last visit, Aes Sedai and the White Tower had been close behind Queen Morgase in the Guards' affections.  Burn her, Elayne could have told me.  Reluctantly, he added, I could have asked questions, too.

Mat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 444

    Mat's doing an excellent job of analyzing his failures; but it doesn't appear that he's learning anything from them.  He's always been the leap first, look later type of character, and it lands him in a disaster here again.  Had he made the association that innkeepers tend to hear the news and rumors of the city, Mat may have reconsidered Thom's offer to head to the inn first.  Mat finds out all sorts of useful information during his talk with Thom and Basel Gill, the innkeeper of the Queen's Blessing. 

    Asking questions is the best way to uncover more information about a problem.  Most people tend to have difficulty admitting they're having trouble with a situation; they'll often clam up and put on the "everything's fine, here, now" facade.  Fear of failure, loss of the boss's confidence, demotions, etc are all running through their heads; so instead of asking for help, they'll keep slugging it out in the trenches hoping for success.  As leaders, it's our job to know the warning signs for these situations and begin to step in.  Asking questions provides a way to guide the individual or team through a problem without taking the control out of their hands.  They're still empowered to develop their own solutions; some of the burden of failure is removed allowing them to start visualizing success once more.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 43 & 44 [#107]


    At the end of Chapter 42, Moiraine leaves Lan (and the rest) very explicit instructions to stay behind while she scouts ahead.  Lan, Perrin, Faile, and Loial take time to scout out the immediate surroundings of their inn.  Discovering paw prints from a Darkhound etched clearly in the cobblestone streets, Lan elects to disobey Moiraine.

    The Warder was silent for a time.  "The answer to that, blacksmith," he said grimly at last, "may be more than you or I, either one, want to know.  I hope the answer does not kill us all.  You three get what sleep you can.  I doubt we will stay the night in Illian, and I fear we have hard riding ahead."

    "What are you going to do?"  Perrin asked.

    "I am going after Moiraine.  To tell her about the Darkhound.  She can't be angry with me for following for that, not when she would not know it was thereuntil it took her throat."

Lan and Perrin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 424

    Actively disobeying a direct order is a bold choice.  For Lan, it's a matter between his original oath to protect Moiraine and her more recent demand that he stay behind to protect Perrin, Faile and Loial in the event of her death.  Lan's decision rests entirely on his interpretation of Moiraine's intent.  The Darkhound is a new variable to the equation, one that Moiraine did not foresee or plan for.  This new information demands immediate action.  With no other means of communicating the hazards to Moiraine, Lan follows her; leaving the other three behind.  No doubt he feels that Perrin's ability to smell the evil of the Gray Men, and others, leaves them in as good a defensive position as any at the moment.  Lan's success is in acting on his oath to defend Moiraine.  She might be angry, but at least she'll be alive to be angry. 

    In the end, it comes down to trusting folks to make decisions and act quickly and advantageously in the leader's absence.  Leaders facilitate this by communicating intent, continually driving decisions down to the lowest effective level and keeping an open mind when taking the reports upon returning to the team. 

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 41 & 42 [#106]

Emotional Intelligence VIII: Perrin Aybara

    Perrin, Moiraine, Lan, Loial and Faile arrive in Illian.  Perrin welcomes the din of the city to drown out his connection to the wolves.  As the small group drives further into the city, there is a palpable sense of wrongness permeating the Illian and its denizens.  Settling in to the inn, Easing the Badger, Moiraine grills the innkeeper for news - what she finds out clearly terrifies her.

    If Moiraine had sounded afraid before, it had been nothing to when she said that something must be done tonight.  For an instant then, fear scent had steamed from her as from a woman announcing that she was going to stick her hand in a hornet's nest and crush them with her bare fingers.  What in the light is she up to?  If Moiraine is frightened, I should be terrified.

    He was not, he realized.  Not terrified, or even frightened.  He felt ... excited.  Ready for something to happen, almost eager.  Determined.  He recognized the feelings.  They were what wolves felt just before they fought.  Burn me, I'd rather be afraid!

Perrin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 415

    As Perrin's connection to the wolves deepens, his self analysis does as well.  In that small passage, he executes a considerable amount of emotional intelligence, following the emotions through to their source.  Recognizing what he probably should be feeling, based on a logical examination of what he senses from Moiraine, and then further recognizing that his actual feelings are completely different.  Driving deeper to examine them completely, instead of just glancing at the surface.   All in the space of a few seconds.  Part of his aptitude at dismantling his emotions on the fly is no doubt linked to his normal, pensive and analytical mindset.  For example, earlier as they were traveling through Illian to the inn, Perrin questioned himself on what he wasn't seeing when Loial and Moiraine independently remarked about something being wrong in Illian.  At the moment, the only one to throw him off balance is Faile.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 40 [#105]

Character Development: Mat Cauthon

    Mat and Thom arrive in Aringill, where Cairhienin civil war is pushing refugees in searching for food and shelter just as it's driving prices for those same amenities skywards. 

    The two girls sobbed into their mother's skirts while the boy fought his tears.  The woman's deep-set eyes rested on Mat for a moment, studying his face, before drifting on; they looked as if she wished she could weep too.  On impulse he dug a fistful of loose coins out of his pocket without looking to see what they were and pressed them into her hand.  She gave a start of surprise, stared at the gold and silver in her hand with incomprehension that quickly turned to a smile, and opened her mouth, tears of gratitude filling her eyes.

    "Buy them something to eat," he said quickly, and hurried on before she could speak. 

Mat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 390 - 391

    It was even further to Lugard than to Caemlyn, and Mat suddenly remembered that hard end of bread.  And [Aludra] had said she had no money.  The fireworks would buy no meals until she found someone who could afford them.  She had never even looked at the gold and silver that had spilled from his pockets when he fell; it glittered and sparkled among the straw in the lantern light.  Ah, Light, I cannot let her go hungry, I suppose.  He scooped up as much as he could reach quickly.

    "Uh ... Aludra?  I have plenty, you can see.  I thought perhaps ... ?"  He held out the coins toward her.  "I can always win more."

Mat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 398 - 399

    Mat's inclination for his own self-interest is slowly receding.  It's not simply his generosity with his coin, but his trust in himself that he can do without it, can earn more if needed, or even survive and thrive if need be.  He puts up a hardened exterior to stave of Thom's questions and his own embarrassment at his brash actions, but it's also obvious that Thom respects the decisions Mat makes, and the man he's becoming.  As for Mat, well, change requires an adjustment period to appreciate the new normal.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 39 [#104]

Violent Disagreement And Healthy Discourse

    Nynaeve and Egwene are still having their odd little argument, even amidst the Aiel.  Elayne's efforts at a heat sink are mostly ineffective.  Nynaeve attempts to hide her frustration in moving ahead towards Jurene after leaving the Aielwomen, but ends up just creating a war of silence between all three of the women.

    They caught up to Nynaeve, Egwene glowering as she thought, Nynaeve staring straight ahead toward Jurene and that ship, and Elayne frowning at the pair of them as if they were two children sulking over who should have the larger piece of cake.
Nynaeve, Elayne and Egwene, The Dragon Reborn, p. 373

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with healthy disagreement amongst a team - behind closed doors.  That's how flaws in the plans get uncovered; how potentially crippling issues come to light - it's the open honesty that continues to build the foundation of trust among team members.  Once a plan is decided on, however, every team member needs to embrace it wholeheartedly, no matter what their view point.  This is where Egwene and Nynaeve are struggling.  Keeping that friction between them, erodes the overall team as others (Elayne) waste energy trying to unify the fracturing team.