A Leader Reads [#100Days]


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 Great Hunt - Chapter 44 [#100Days, Day 68]

Grin & Bear It

    On the trail for Fain, Perrin and Mat come across Bornhald's legion of Whitecloaks.  Wary of being followed, Perrin reaches out to the wolves to see if they are being pursued.

    Reluctantly, he reached out with his mind in search of wolves.  Almost immediately he found them, a small pack lying up for the day in the hills above the village they had just left.  There were moments of astonishment so strong he almost thought it was his own; these wolves had heard rumors, but they had not really believed there were two-legs who could talk to their kind.  He sweated through the minutes it took to get past introducing himself - he gave the image of Young Bull in spite of himself, and added his own smell, according to the custom among the wolves; wolves were great ones for formalities on first meetings - but finally he managed to get his question through.  They really had no interest in any two-legs who could not talk to them, but at last they glided down to take a look, unseen by the dull eyes of the two-legs.
Perrin, The Great Hunt, p. 518

    You can practically hear Perrin's teeth grinding as he, in his view, wastes time on frivolities.  Those extra minutes were worth it, else the wolves would have ignored the request.  This is a frustrating and, sometimes, flat out irritating situation to be in: only one party has a sense of urgency, and is trying to recruit others to help.  Handled poorly, it can sour the team building before it truly starts.  Sometimes you have to ask about little Timmy's baseball game, even though it's the furthest thing from your mind.  Making a connection with someone outside the confines of work yields short and long term dividends.  It takes a few minutes longer, but it's more likely to result in  a "let me see what I can do for you" as opposed to flat out refusal.  And it lays the foundation to continue to bring that individual into the team by treating them as a person, instead of a commodity that provides something you need.  But, it certainly is frustrating - especially when the only one with the urgency is you.

The Great Hunt - Chapters 42 & 43 [#100Days, Day 67]

Character Development: Nynaeve, Egwene, Elayne and Min

    These chapters focus on Nynaeve and Elayne working to free Egwene and Min from the clutches of the Seanchan.  Min's more or less free to come and go as she pleases, but she's working to free Egwene from her damane leash and collar.  Nynaeve and Elayne are trying to do the same, with the added pressure of not getting caught themselves.

    All four do a tremendous amount of character development in these chapters.  Nynaeve actually manages to (somewhat) control her anger and step up as a leader.  She is intent and focused on freeing Egwene, despite the sense of frustration eating at her; doubting that it can even be done.  Elayne sheds some of the protected naivete she enjoyed in the court of Andor.  For a future queen, Elayne is surprisingly pragmatic, stealing apples to eat.  In the same sentence, though, she wonders why the Falmen don't rise up against their Seanchan oppressors - as if she had not faced their brutality days earlier.  Egwene is deep in the dark places that we all occasionally find ourselves; and it's getting darker by the day.  Hers is a particularly difficult development to watch; it steps right up to the edge of humanity and causes us to question it within ourselves.  And Min stands tall as a friend; the strong counterpoint to Egwene's growing despair.  In doing so, however, she hides her own feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness as Egwene receives another punishment for channeling without command.  Despite the oppressing and suffocating cloud of despair surrounding all of them; they all continue to forge ahead, continuing to fight, and staying persistent.

The Great Hunt - Chapter 41 [#100Days, Day 66]

Competing Priorities

    Throughout the previous 40 chapters, Rand, Mat, Ingtar and the rest have been chasing Fain and his Darkfriends; each for a different reason.  Mat is after the dagger, Ingtar must have the Horn of Valere, and Rand is trying to protect Emond's Field from further harm.  For all three, it seems to be a matter of life or death.  For Mat, at least, if he cannot find the dagger, he will die.  Ingtar seems almost mad in his dedication to finding the Horn.*  Rand, after seeing what happened to the villages Fain left along the way, is rightfully scared for his home.  Up to this point, the three strands were tightly woven together; it was a simple chase, Hurin providing confirmation that Fain was ahead.  Since leaving Cairhien, Ingtar is less convinced that the shift to Toman Head was the right choice.  To a lesser extent, Mat shares the anxiety - but from the perspective that Hurin is the best chance to find Fain; and until the trail is found, the days tick away.  The strands are fraying apart as the tasks compete for priority.

    Part of the job of a leader is to provide that direction on which tasks take precedence.  There's always a finite amount of resources and time in a project, and situations will arise where tasks compete for the same resources or have similar deadlines (or both).  Negotiating this quagmire involves understanding impacts of decisions - effectively shifting the OODA Loop forward to begin the observe stage from the vantage of having already made the decision about which task takes precedence.  Once the impact is understood, it's important to ensure all the stakeholders and customers understand the impacts.  Deciding which task has priority may not be your decision at all; we all have customers and they all have demands.  It may be the customers that dictate the priority; and that decision may be counter to a decision that actually drives towards the best possible outcome. 

    I usually chuckle when someone mentions "this is my #X priority."  Priority, by definition, is something of highest importance.  To rank them in numerical order invokes an Orwellian 'All priorities are important, but some are more important than others' standard for management.  While it may seem true, it can cause a tremendous amount of churn and confusion internal to your organization.  Some teams end up working on the wrong task, all the while thinking they're actually moving the organization forward.  Clearly defining the priority gives unity of effort, removing any confusion about the tasks to be executed.  Once the priority job is complete, it's on to the next job - which now enjoys the lofty priority status.  Prioritize and execute.  And execute.  And execute.

*I'm fairly certain that Ingtar says "I must have the Horn," or a variant thereof each chapter he's in.  In this chapter alone he said it three times in the span of a paragraph.  Driven doesn't even come close to describing his obsession with finding the Horn.

The Great Hunt - Chapter 40 [#100Days, Day 65]

Bravely Run Away

    Liandrin leads Min, Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve through the Ways to Toman Head.  At the exit, they find themselves surrounded by Seanchan.  In the ensuing fight, Min and Egwene are taken prisoner; while Nynaeve and Elayne manage to escape.

    "... That man hit Min, knocked her down.  And one of those women was trying to put something around Egwene's neck.  I saw that much before I ran.  I don't think they got away, Nynaeve.  I should have done something.  Min cut the hand that was holding me, and Egwene ... I just ran, Nynaeve.  I realized I was free, and I ran.  Mother had better marry Gareth Bryne and have another daughter as soon as she can.  I am not fit to take the throne."
    "Don't be a goose," Nynaeve said sharply.  "Remember, I have a packet of sheepstongue root among my herbs."  Elayne had her head in her hands; the gibe did not even produce a murmur.  "Listen to me, girl.  Did you see me stay to fight twenty or thirty armed men, not to mention the Aes Sedai?  If you had waited, the most likely thing by far is that you would be a prisoner, too.  If they didn't just kill you.  They seemed to be interested in Egwene and me for some reason.  They might not have cared whether you remained alive or not."

Elayne and Nynaeve, The Great Hunt, p. 487

    Sometimes the best option is a tactical retreat.  On the battlefield, this gives Elayne and Nynaeve a chance to live another day and perhaps rescue their friends.  In the boardroom, this can mean backing down from a position to maneuever around to a more advantageous one.  Retreating, or the appearance of retreating, can actually help build coalitions.  If you're always known as the hard-headed, "go angry early"-type, chances are you'll run yourself out of allies.  And find yourself facing a coalition against you.  Building bridges is a series of advances and retreats.  Making concessions makes you reasonable; it means you're listening, actively engaged in hearing concerns with the plan and working together to work around or through them.  In the end, it's not the plan that matters - it's the results.

The Great Hunt - Chapters 38 & 39 [#100Days, Day 64]


    She found it hard to think that there had been a time when she had been eager to have an adventure, to do something dangerous and exciting like the people in stories.  Now she thought the exciting part was what you remembered when you looked back, and the stories left out a good deal of unpleasantness.
Egwene, The Great Hunt, p. 465

    My first boss told me something similar, although he called it amnesia.  He meant that we all tend to forget the unpleasantness - the sleepless nights, the routine drills, the frustrating people, the boring duty days.  What we tend to remember are the polar extremes: the really good times and the really challenging ones.  The stuff that we can all spin into a better story than what may have actually happened.  

    For leaders, it's important to recognize this; but more importantly to remember that our teams are operating in the daily trenches of it all.  It's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees and have a team get overwhelmed by the project.  It's easy to lose the excitement and motivation that was present at the beginning of the project.  One project I was on, for example, was stuck at the exact same milestone for nearly three years!  It wasn't for lack of effort, but the team was literally treading water: a flurry of activity going nowhere as the team we were waiting on kept hitting barrier after barrier.  So we broke the tasks further - maintaining the focus on giving the customers what we could.  Progress was small, but it was progress.  Our job is to maintain the focus and the drive; removing obstacles, building and keeping momentum.  And all those stories at the end turn into excellent lessons learned.

The Great Hunt - Chapter 37 [#100Days, Day 63]

Time to Roll the Dice

    With Machin Shin waiting at the entrance to every Waygate, the Ogier lead Rand, Verin and the rest to another portal stone; similar to the ones Rand, Hurin and Loial used with Selene.  Verin knows enough of the Portal Stone to be dangerous, as the saying goes.  She doesn't know what all the symbols mean, just the ones that indicate the current Stone and the one of Toman Head.  

    "... You must choose.  As my father would have said, it's time to roll the dice."
    Rand stared, shaking his head,  "I could kill all of us, whatever I choose. ..."
    ... Rand heard his teeth grinding and forced himself to unclench his jaw.  The symbols could all have been exactly alike, for all they meant to him.  The script could as well have been a chicken's scratchings.  At last he settled on one, with an arrow pointing left because it pointed towards Toman Head, an arrow that pierced the circle because it had broken free, as he wanted to.  He wanted to laugh.  Such small things on which to gamble all their lives.

Verin and Rand, The Great Hunt, p. 444

    We've discussed before about making decisions with little information; but what about with zero information?  Rand is making a guess, and associating meaning to it after the fact.  If he was standing on the other side of the Stone, would he have picked the arrow pointing right, as from that perspective it would be pointing towards Toman Head?  The only real thing to do is to decide, and do it confidently*.  

Recall back to Chapters 19 & 20 when Rand was in a similar situation operating with no information.  

The Great Hunt - Chapter 36 [#100Days, Day 62]

Emotional Intelligence V: The Ogier

    "Be not so hasty Shienaran.  You humans never take time for thought.  Only decisions reached in calm can be sure."
Alar, The Great Hunt, p. 434

    Alar is spot on - emotional responses are unpredictable.  They may work, they may not.  Taking time, even a brief moment, to think things through* pays dividends.  The number of decisions that absolutely must be made right this second is vanishingly small.  The only set of circumstances that really comes to mind would be when lives hang in the balance - in those situations, however, training should be overriding the strategic thought processes so that immediate actions are taken immediately.  Taking a pause is an effective way to decouple the emotion from the response.  It provides a moment to ask a question - a single question can draw out more information from which to base the decision.  Information that was available but not readily provided.  Decoupling the emotion from the response also ensures that the leader remains approachable.  The team won't feel pressured to "wait until the boss is in a good mood" to bring decisions forward.  This keeps decisions being made within the timeframe where they are most actionable, instead of compounding delays driving away from action.

*Or even to daydream and carry out the emotional response in your head

The Great Hunt - Chapter 35 [#100Days, Day 61]

Everyone Needs a Break

    "Just smell this air, Lord Rand," Hurin said, filling his lungs with a smile.  His feet dangled from one of the chairs at the table; he swung them like a boy.  "I never thought most places smelled bad, but this ... Lord Rand, I don't think there's ever been any killing here.  Not even any hurting, except by accident."
Hurin, The Great Hunt, p. 431

    Rand, Ingtar and the rest arrive in Stedding Tsofu in their hunt for another Waygate.  The place of peace has a profound effect on Hurin.  Imagine, being able to smell violence after it's been committed.  It's clearly an ingrained ability, he can't simply switch it off.  Does he feel pressured to be "on the job" all the time?  Is he on the verge of burning out? Can he block it out, even a little bit, in off duty hours or while he's sleeping?  In the stedding, Hurin is able to breath freely, such a respite from the near constant assault on his nose rejuvenates him.

    Leaders need to be attuned to burn out among their team members as well.  Significant periods of overtime, especially on normal days off, grinds people down very quickly.  High stress projects or demanding customers can also wear teams down quickly.  Product quality drops, as does mental resilience.  Overtime is usually the critical metric used to gauge the relative stress of an organization, but it's not the end-all, be-all.  Vacation policies can also provide some insight; particularly if an organization has a use-or-lose vacation policy (e.g. only a limited number of vacation days may be carried over year to year).  One of the favored sayings at my current organization is: "schedule the maintenance, or it will schedule itself."  This can easily be applied to the people within the organization: take a break or an injury will force you to take one.  Take a break or product quality will drop so far that company revenue drops, forcing lay-offs.  As leaders we are fond of saying that people are the greatest asset an organization has.   This is absolutely true; part of respecting that tremendous talent pool is providing time away.  Whatever the method, time away from the team is just as critical as time on the job. 

The Great Hunt - Chapter 34 [#100Days, Day 60]

The Court of the Nine Moons

    "I stand twelfth in line of succession to the Crystal Throne.  If I kept the Horn of Valere, all between myself and the throne would think I meant to be first hereafter, and while the Empress, of course, wishes that we contend with one another so that the strongest and most cunning will follow her, she currently favors her second daughter, and she would not look well on any threat to Tuon.  If I sounded it, even if I then laid this land at her feet, and every woman in the White Tower leashed, the Empress, may she live forever, would surely believe I meant to be more than merely her heir."

High Lord Turak, The Great Hunt, p. 420

    Much like Cairhien, the Seanchan royal court is thick with plots and maneuvering.  From the outsider's perspective, it begs questions about unity of effort and spans of control.  How can such a government be effective if it is constantly plotting against itself, across multiple veins?  It's similar for any organization; a fractured leadership corps yields no unity, no success.  For the Seanchan, fear is the only method available to keep people in control.  Every rule in effect is held in place through fear.

    "If the Empress must order such a death [of a noble], the unfortunate one is placed alive in a silken bag, and that bag hung over the side of the Tower of the Ravens and left there until it rots away."

High Lord Turak, The Great Hunt, p. 420

    If that's the treatment of her leadership cadre, imagine how the rest of her countrymen must feel.  And since the Empress uses such methods to keep her direct reports in check, those same direct reports have implicit permission to do the same to their own subordinates.  Toxic doesn't even begin to describe this organization.

The Great Hunt - Chapter 33 (cont'd) [#100Days, Day 59]

A Poor Pair of Heroes

    While Rand, Verin, Ingtar and Loial mingle at Barthanes' party, Hurin tracks Fain and the Darkfriends to a Waygate, the last remnant of a destroyed stedding.  Rand elects to open the Waygate to prove to Hurin that the trail is still trackable even through the blackness of the Ways; upon doing so, Machin Shin appears, actively trying to escape the Ways and kill Rand, Hurin, and Loial.  As Rand fumbles with the Power, Loial crawls forward and manages to shut the Waygate.

    "You saved us, Builder," Hurin had his back pressed against the wall and his voice was hoarse. ...

    "I only found the leaf and put it back," Loial said, shrugging.   "It seemed that if we could not get the Waygate closed, it would kill us.  I am afraid I'm not a very good hero, Rand.  I was so afraid I could hardly think."

    "We were both afraid," Rand said.  "We may be a poor pair of heroes, but we are what there is.  It's a good thing Ingtar is with us."

Hurin, Loial and Rand, The Great Hunt, p. 402

    Loial's honesty here is refreshing.  Admitting his own fear, yet still managing to act decisively is a strong leadership quality.  It wasn't a gamble, it was a calculated risk; the stakes were just immense - as losing probably meant death.  Fighting through the fear, Loial finds success.  There will always be reasons why things can't be done; many of them are based out of fear.  As leaders, it's up to us to find the way through them to get that next level of success.

The Great Hunt - Chapters 32 & 33 [#100Days, Day 58]


    Rand, Verin, Ingtar, Loial, Mat and Hurin use Lord Barthanes' invitation to gain access to his estate in search of Fain and the Horn.  Like all the Cairhienin, Lord Barthanes plays the Great Game almost without thought.  As such, his short conversation with Rand is both funny and frustrating.

    "This is a fine party.  You have many friends, and I've never seen so many entertainers."

    "Many friends," Barthanes agreed. "You can tell Galldrian ho mnay, and who.  Some of the names might surprise him."

    "I have never met the King, Lord Barthanes, and I don't expect I ever will."

    "Of course.  You just happened to be in that flyspeck village.  You were not checking on the progress of retrieving that statue.  A great undertaking, that."

    "Yes."  He had begun thinking of Verin again, wishing she had given him some advice on how to talk with a man who assumed he was lying.  He added without thinking, "It's dangerous to meddle with things from the Age of Legens if you don't know what you are doing."

    Barthanes peered into his wine, musing as if Rand had just said something profound.  "ARe you saying you do not support Galldrian in this" he asked finally.

    "I told you, I've never met the King."

    "Yes, of course.  I did not know Andormen played at the Great Game so well.  We do not see many here in Cairhien."

    Rand took a deep breath to stop from telling the man angrily that he was not playing their Game. "There are many grain barges from ANdor in the river."

    "Merchants and traders.  Who notices such as they?  As well notice the beetles on the leaves."  Barthanes's voice carried equal contempt for both beetles and merchants, but once again he frowned as if Rand had hinted at something.

Rand and Lord Barthanes, The Great Hunt, p. 391-392

    Rand is simply trying to make idle conversation, while Barthanes is convinced that he's making some deeper strategic move to his disadvantage.  Rand is getting more visibly frustrated, while Barthanes is getting more wary.  Communication is probably an area any organization would universally and unanimously agree that needs improvement.  Poor communication causes a tremendous amount of friction within (and without) an organization.   The majority of my time as a leader is spent talking to people: getting them to understand the direction the company is taking, listening to their concerns, discussing issues, negotiating other peoples' miscommunications, it's endless.  A couple of concepts that have worked for me:

  • My home field advantage is on someone else's turf (office, desk, workspace, etc)
  • Put the computer facing a direction that requires you to fully engage with people in your office
  • Take notes

For the first one, this means getting out of the office and going to someone else's.  It gives them the illusion of "home field advantage", it makes it seem as if you're more willing to give something up.  In reality, I'm there to get what I need.  The second one is critical to just basic human decency.  Technology is a giant distraction, and to continue working on your computer, checking email (or whatever), is just a giant middle finger to the people that come to find you for assistance.  Giving them your full attention is the absolute focus of your job as a leader.  I saw a couple of the senior leaders during my shipyard days set their offices up so that computer work put their back to the door and they would have to literally turn 180 degrees to greet someone who entered their office.  It's a set up I've copied since.  There is just no such thing as "multi-tasking".  Finally, note taking is a way to ensure that you're able to recall the details of the discussion at a later date.  Putting pen to paper engages the brain more fully to drive the discussion to long term memory.  It also allows you to summarize key points in your own words and ensure you're not miscommunicating.  Writing takes more time than talking, so it slows down the conversation; which can assist in damping any emotions.  It's also a way to preserve decision making on your part as a leader, so you're more consistent.  To date, I've got a dozen or so notebooks from my current job.  Communication is key, and clear communication is critical; keep trying methods to see what works best and then stick to it.  It's infectious.

The Great Hunt - Chapters 30 & 31 [#100Days, Day 57]

Adjusting to the Burden (of Command)

    Despite Rand's efforts, he gets pulled into Daes Dae'mar more quickly than he would have preferred.  Keeping a low profile is out of the question as he receives invitations to attend soirees at the King's palace, and that of his chief rival, Lord Barthanes.  To buy time, he makes himself seen in the common room of the inn, with the invitations as yet unopened.  Returning from his daily gate check with Loial to see if Ingtar and the rest arrive, he finds the inn engulfed in flames.  Rand and Loial jump into the burning building to pull out Hurin and the Horn.  They're only half successful - Hurin is alive, barely; but the Horn is gone.  Ingtar and the rest show up as the inn continues to burn.  What would be a joyous occasion is downplayed as Rand focuses on how to regain the Horn.

    "Hurin," Rand said, "how soon can you be ready to follow their trail again?  Can you follow it?  THe men who hit you and started the fire left a trail, didn't they?"

    "I can follow it now, my Lord.  And I could smell them in the street.  It won't last long, though.  There weren't any Trollocs, and they didn't kill anybody.  Just men, my Lord.  Darkfriends, I suppose, but you can't always be sure of that by smell.  A day, maybe, before it fades."

    "I don't think they can open the chest either, Rand," Loial said, "or they would just have taken the Horn.  It would be much easier to take that if they could, rather than the whole chest."

    Rand nodded.  "They must have put it in a cart, or on a horse.  Once they get it beyond Foregate, they'll join the Trollocs again, for sure.  You will be able to follow that trail Hurin."

    "I will, my Lord."

    "Then you rest until you're fit," Rand told him.  The sniffer looked steader, but he rode slumped, and his face was weary.  At best, they will only be a few hours ahead of us.  If we ride hard ... " Suddenly he noticed that the others were looking at him, Verin and Ingtar, Mat and Perrin.  He realized what he had been doing, and his face colored.  "I am sorry, Ingtar.  It's just that I've become used to being in charge, I suppose.  I'm not trying to take your place."

Rand, Hurin, and Loial, The Great Hunt, p. 378

    Despite his earlier objections, Rand has grown into his position and grown comfortable with it.  He's now more decisive and quick thinking, evaluating options and discarding them; selecting the one that is most likely to bring success.   All in the span of a few minutes discussion  with his team.   He's now comfortable with being uncomfortable - not knowing all the facts, or being afforded the time to evaluate all the possibilities.  He's making decisions with the information he has available and leaving himself plenty of room to maneuver when the situation inevitably changes.  For a young man so remarkably opposed to being in charge, he's performed well.

    There was a dignity to him the Perrin did not remember; Rand was looking at the Aes Sedai and the Shienaran lord as equals.

Perrin, The Great Hunt, p. 384

The Great Hunt - Chapter 29 [#100Days, Day 56]

The Power of Intent: Geofram Bornhald

    Lord Captain of the Children of the Light, Geofram Bornhald, makes a return.  Perrin killed two of his men in the abandoned stedding in The Eye of the World; a fact that Lord Bornhald is intent on seeing to justice.  At the moment, however, Geofram's orders are clear: obey the even more fanatical sub-sect of the Children with a penchant for horrific torture and who deeply believe in guilt until innocence is proven.  

    His legion was too scattered for his liking, with Questioners having too many of the commands, but his orders had been explicit: Obey the Questioners.
Geofram Bornhald, The Great Hunt, p. 349

    Despite the calm veneer, Geofram is deeply conflicted with his orders.  Perhaps not necessarily that he needs to obey the Questioners, but their methods and his implicit culpability for the results.  

    Bornhald's hand slapping the table cut [Child Byar] off.  "What Darkfriends?  I have seen nothing in any village [Questioner Jaichim Carridin] has ordered taken except farmers and craftsmen worried that we will burn their livelihoods, and a few old women who tend the sick."  Byar's face was a study in lack of expression; he was always readier than Bornhald to see Darkfriends.  "And children, Byar.  Do children here become Darkfriends?"
Geofram Bornhald, The Great Hunt, p. 352

    Despite the Lord Captain Commander, Pedron Niall, personally giving Bornhald his orders, providing the Questioners with teams of his own men accosting locals and trying to stir up a civil war is probably not the true intent of the Lord Captain Commander.  Cutting his losses and pursuing what he believes the true threat, the Seanchan, meets both the intent of his orders to obey the Questioners and the intent of the Children of the Light as an organization and its current Lord Captain Commander.

    Intent allows members of the team to think and act independently to achieve the overall organizational desires.  For Geofram, the order to obey the Questioners is vague enough to allow him the maneuverability to maintain his personal sense of honor and drive towards the overall greater organizational goals.  Since the Questioners lack that same flexibility, Geofram is able to capitalize on their weak communications lines to effectively disappear from their notice. 

Additional Resources:

Check out this video for more information on how the concept of intent provides flexibility to an organization.

The Great Hunt - Chapter 28 [#100Days, Day 55]

Leadership Development: Perrin

    The view point for this chapter switches back to Perrin, Mat, Verin, Ingtar and the rest of the Shienarans still on the hunt for Fain and Rand.  Perrin continues to to use his link with the wolves to track Fain and the Darkfriends, and as his eyes have sharpened, so has his skill at observation, especially of minute details.  This chapter is rich with examples of Perrin's literal eye for detail:

  • He notices that "Uno somehow manage[s] to look offended without changing his expression"
  • Perrin "[catches] a sudden air of readiness" about Urien, the Aielman who stops the group
  • When Urien cannot speak details of Rhuidean, Perrin "[grips his axe in spite of himself]" based on how the Aielman phrased his reply

    Observation is the first step in the OODA Loop; and Perrin exhibits a mastery that seems to allow him to predict the future.  He readies himself without thought based simply on visual cues and speech patterns; in combat such anticipation is the line between life and death.  The eye for detail is also extremely critical for non-combat situations.  It allows a focus on discipline up and down the chain of command.  If a leader is known for a very critical eye, then it trains the subordinates to anticipate that and develops their own critical eye, so that only good products are passed on.  It provides coaching and mentoring opportunities for the leader to regularly engage with the team to ensure their eye for detail is developing.  Similarly, if the leader's bosses recognize that eye for detail, more autonomous operating parameters are usually given, as well as opportunities for additional assignments or projects where that skill is valued.  

The Great Hunt - Chapters 26 & 27 [#100Days, Day 54]

Of Rocks and Hard Places

    Waiting in Cairhien, Rand, Loial and Hurin are beset by intrigue.  As newcomers to the city, the multitude of players of the Great Game seek to entangle them in their plots.  A spot of good luck leads Rand to reunite with Thom Merrilin.  Desperately seeking another ally, Rand attempts to encourage Thom to join again - and fails.  Leaving Thom's inn, Rand and Loial are attacked by Trollocs triggering another mysterious appearance by Selene.  She tries to lure him with dreams of power and glory, even as they are beset by enemies out for blood.  Rand laments at the end of Chapter 27 that he wishes Ingtar would come.

    Rand is in an unenviable position: he has only his two friends, he's beset by enemies known and unknown, and keeps getting prodded and pulled in various directions by Selene.  All he wants is to wait quietly for Ingtar and the rest; letting the events of Cairhien pass them by unnoticed.  Hiding doesn't seem to be a viable option; but there doesn't seem to be a direct approach either.  To leave no doubt greatly increases the risk of capture from Fain and his horde; the city offers a security barrier against them, however meager.  Staying indefinitely isn't an option either - the nobles in Cairhien will expect him to make some move in their Great Game.  No doubt Rand was hoping Thom would join and provide his significant expertise in navigating the scenario to an elegant solution.  

    What does a leader do?  The best they can.  Rand is still looking after Loial and Hurin; and that is paying off: Hurin is providing a shield (however feeble) in the Great Game's eternal probing and questions; and Loial killed a Trolloc hunting them in the streets.  Waiting for Ingtar and the rest is the least bad decision; and sometimes that's all that exists between options.  There may not be a good choice; just the one that provides a path to the least negative outcome(s).  

The Great Hunt - Chapter 25 [#100Days, Day 53]

Character Analysis: King Galldrian of Cairhien

    The King of Cairhien is a name only - the person never makes an appearance; but we learn a significant amount of his leadership style from "overhearing" conversations about him from the other characters.

    "It was the Aiel War, Lord Rand."  [Hurin] looked to make sure none of the soldiers were close enough to hear.  "Many of the farmers were afraid ot go back to their lands near the Spine of the World, and they all came here, near anough.  That's why Galldrian has the river full of grain barges up from Andor and Tear.  There's no crops coming from farms in the east because there aren't many farms anymore.  Best not to mention it to a Cairhienin though, my Lord.  They like to pretend the war never happened, or at least that they won it."
Hurin, The Great Hunt, p. 310
    "Are they having a festival?" Rand asked. ...
    "No more than every day, Rand," Loial said. Walking alongside his horse, the blanket-wrapped chest still strapped to his saddle, the Ogier drew as many looks as the puppets had.  Some even laughed and clapped as they had for the puppets.  "I fear Galldrian keeps his people quiet by entertaining them.  He gives gleemen and musicians the King's Gift, a bounty in silver, to perform here in the Foregate, and he sponsors horse races down by the river every day.  There are fireworks many nights too."  He sounded disgusted.  "Elder Haman says Galldrian is a disgrace."

Rand and Loial, The Great Hunt, p. 311

    Leadership is about people - it's a recurring theme as we've gone through the books.  And it's about getting people to believe in themselves and in something bigger than themselves to push the limits and achieve more than they thought they could.  It's about taking care of them - not hovering over them and removing every obstacle, but removing those that are outside their control; helping them develop the skills they need to go forth on their own.  Elder Haman is right: buying them off with festivals, parades, fireworks and distractions is a waste of precious resources.  That money could be used to develop plans to get the farmland back under production.  That effort alone would be worth the effort: it would remove the burden placed on an overcrowded city, it would pay for itself by significantly reducing the imported grain, and it would cement the people to Galldrian.  Instead, he bows to the whims of superstition and ghosts of wars past, throwing money around to cover up the real problems.  

The Great Hunt - Chapter 24 [#100Days, Day 52]

RHIP - Rank Hath Its Privileges

    "[Sheriam] keeps a willow switch on her desk.  She says if you can't learn to follow the rules in a civilized way, she will teach you another way.  There are so many rules for novices, it is very hard not to break some of them," she finished.
    "But that's - that's horrible!  I'm not a child, and neither are you.  I won't be treated as one."
    "But we are children.  The Aes Sedai, the full sisters, are the grown women.  The Accepted are the young women, old enough ot be trusted without someone looking over their shoulders every moment.  And novices are the children, to be protected and cared for, guided in a way they should go, and punished when they do what they should not. ... The only thing to do is the best you can.  There isn't anything else to do.

Elayne and Egwene, The Great Hunt, p. 301

    With this description of Tower life for the novices, we see Jordan's memories of life at The Citadel during his college years.  The newcomers, the freshmen, usually face the most restrictive lifestyle: a myriad of rules (that can be easily be interpreted as "broken"), lots of study, additional mandatory activities and very little free time (or sleep).  As the class or cohort progresses each year, rules dissipate, free time becomes more plentiful, and some of the intense pressure is lifted.  Similar to the Accepted's intense testing, the purpose is to assist in the "wedding out' process.  The drawbacks? It's very easy to abuse all the positional authority afforded by merely being senior to the freshmen.  And the overall culture or climate may support such behavior.  But, it does provide the young novices the opportunity to see a wide array of leadership styles and determine what fits them, individually, the best.  

    For other organizations, the abuse of positional authority leads to a toxic environment.  It requires engagement at all levels to counter; as well as abiding by foundational principles of respect.  It would seem overly obvious to state - but "being a decent person and treating others decently, with respect" seems to be a surprisingly challenging set of leadership qualities to achieve in some cases.

The Great Hunt - Chapter 23 [#100Days, Day 51]

The Testing

This ter'angreal weaves traps for you from your own mind, weaves them tight and strong, harder than steel and more deadly than poison.  That is why we use it as a test.  You must want to be Aes Sedai more than anything else in the whole world, enough to face anything, fight free of anything, to achieve it.  The White Tower cannot accept less.  We demand it of you.
Sheriam Sedai, The Great Hunt, p. 293

    To become Accepted, Nynaeve must face her fears, and not just spiders in the dark.  The entire ceremony is completely voluntary, although not without significant consequences for choosing to quit partway through.  Initially, the test for Accepted seems a weird Marley and Scrooge romp through past, present, and future to become part of a cohort - is it a real test, or simply a method of hazing?  What is the true purpose of this exercise? 

    Military organizations tend to use similar, albeit more physical, benchmarks to ensure trainees have what it takes to continue the training.  Many trainees are in love with the thought or the idea of being part of that elite team or special organization, but lack the commitment to follow through when times get tough.  And a mile of burpees is a tough time.  It's not hard to imagine the White Tower has the same concern about their novices' commitment.  

    Such tests can also be a chance for introspection and assessment of one's own capability as a leader.  Following the theme of past, present, and future, Nynaeve could ask herself:

  • What have I done in the past that I can learn from? What were some of the other possibilities and why didn't I choose them?
  • What am I doing now that is causing conflict with this decision or action? 
  • What possibilities can be imagined for the future if I make (or don't make) this decision?

    By shifting the problem view away from fear and towards a more positive connotation, like possibilities, we have the opportunity to bypass getting stuck on being afraid.  It's a mental trick to circumvent the hurdles our own mind throws up in front of us.

The Great Hunt - Chapter 22 [#100Days, Day 50]

Difficult Conversations

    For the hundredth time - or so it seemed to [Moiraine] - she considered the words to use.  "Before we left Tar Valon I made arrangements, should anything happen to me, for your bond to pass to another."  [Lan] stared at her, silent.  "When you feel my death, you will find yourself compelled to seek her out immediately.  I do not want you to be surprised by it."
    "Compelled," he breathed softly, angrily.  "Never once have you used my bond to compel me.  I thought you more than disapproved of that."
    "Had I left this thing undone, you would be free of the bond at my death, and not even my strongest command to you would hold.  I will not allow you to die in a useless attempt to avenge me.  And I will not allow you to return to your equally useless private war in the Blight.  The war we fight is the same war, if you could only see it so, and I will see that you fight it to some purpose.  Neither vengeance nor an unburied death in the Blight will do.

Moiraine and Lan, The Great Hunt, p. 271

    One of the more challenging (and sometimes least enjoyable) parts of leadership is having conversations like this with individual team members.  I would argue that a conversation along this sort of path is even more challenging.  The conversations about discipline or job performance aren't fun, but they are usually fairly straightforward.  Conversations about future events or possibilities tend to elicit more emotion as they are more nebulous, not necessarily originating in any documented procedure or guideline.  In this instance, Moiraine is planning far in advance to ensure that Lan's skills don't go to waste.  And it drives the reserved man to fury:

    "Is that what this has been for?" he grated.  His eyes burned like blue fire, and his mouth twisted.  Anger; for the first time ever that she had seen, open anger etched his face.  "Has all this talk been a test - a test! - to see if you could make my bond rub?  After all this time?  From the day I pledge to you, I have ridden where you said ride, even when I thought it foolish, even when I had reason to ride another way.  Never did you need my bond to force me.  On your word I have watched you walk into danger and kept my hands at my sides when I wanted nothing more than to out sword and carve a path to safety for you.  After this, you test me?"
Lan, The Great Hunt, p. 272-273

    The relationship between Moiraine and Lan is founded on mutual respect; as a man of his word, Lan doesn't need compulsion to do anything.  I think it's even less about the fact that Moiraine intends to compel him through the bond, it's that she considers it a requirement - as if his word means nothing! - drives Lan's anger.  Moiraine definitely could have handled this better; other than to actually test him, there was no real reason to get Lan angry.  It's clear that he didn't understand the deeper nature of the Warder's bond; but that information could have been presented in a much cleaner fashion than simply throwing it all in his face.  Part of that was likely Moiraine's very natural reaction to simply cut right to the chase; however being overly blunt in the eagerness to "get through" the conversation reduces the overall effectiveness of the conversation.  The conversation that needs to happen is exactly in that uncomfortable area for everyone.  It's just not always pleasant.

The Great Hunt - Chapter 21 [#100Days, Day 49]

The Great Game - Daes Dae'mar

    On my first read through, years ago, I absolutely hated the chapters dealing with the Great Game.  After such a sequence of chases from the start, it seemed a complete slow down - no action, all maneuvering and out-thinking - bland in comparison to the previous frenetic pace.  But these chapters really are what make this book incredible.  

    "Daes Dae-mar, Lord Rand," Hurin said.  "The Great Game.  The Game of Houses, some call it.  This Caldevwin thinks you must be doing something to your advantage or you wouldn't be here.  And whatever you're doing might be to his disadvantage, so he has to be careful."
    Rand shook his head.  " 'The Great Game'? What game?"
    "it isn't a game at all, Rand," Loial said from his bed.  He had pulled a book from his pocket, but it lay unopened on his chest. "I don't know much about it - Ogier don't do such things - but I have heard of it.  The nobles and the noble Houses maneuver for advantage.  They do things they think will help them, or hurt an enemy, or both.  Usually, it's all done in secrecy, or if not they try to make it seem as if they're doing something other than what they are."

Hurin, Rand and Loial, The Great Hunt, p. 265-266

    For a new leader, this chapter provides Rand an introduction to a framework of critical thinking: looking beyond the surface facts, challenging assumptions, thinking multiple moves downstream, and predicting probable outcomes of decisions and actions.  It also involves evaluating his own actions, emotional reactions, and communication style.  These skills, critical thinking and self-assessment, are essential to the leader's toolkit and absolutely vital to Rand's progression as a leader.