A Leader Reads [#100Days]

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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 Dragon Reborn - Chapters 35 & 36 [#100Days, Day 100]

Judging Books

    As quickly as they arrive in Remen, Perrin's fight with the Whitecloaks causes them to leave.  Perrin, Lan, Moiraine and Loial board a ship bound for Illian; along with a new passenger, a dark haired Saldaean woman.

    He blinked; there was no mistaking that emphasis.  "A Hunter?  You?  You cannot be a Hunter.  You're a girl."

Perrin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 335

    Perrin makes his own misstep here, discounting Zarine's abilities simply because of her gender.  This one puzzles me as it's well out of character for Perrin.  This is the sort of comment I'd expect Mat to make.  Regardless, Perrin's mistake is making a snap judgement on ability with no basis; immediately shrugging off any value Zarine brings to the team.  Perrin's behavior is odd, considering his
traveling companion is an Aes Sedai; and probably one of the more deadly
people he knows.  Of all people, he should know to maintain an open mind about new talents and skills a new team member brings.  Zarine's
response is well crafted and recalibrates Perrin; answernig the question he should have asked ("What qualifies you to be a Hunter?") and shifts the tone of the conversation towards a respectful exchange between professionals.

    "Nimble fingers and nimble wits will take you a good deal further than a sword and muscles.  Sharp eyes help, as well, but fortunately, I have these things."

Zarine, The Dragon Reborn, p. 335

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 33 & 34 [#100Days, Day 99]

The Man In The Mirror

    Perrin, Loial, Moiraine and Lan continue to follow Rand's trail.  Nearly every village they pass through has had some excitement out of the ordinary - massive fires, a village full of weddings, bags of gold being found, a new well, a completely dried well - until they come to Remen, where an Aielman is locked in a cage, with children throwing rocks at him.

    What was he supposed to do?  I could have stopped those children throwing rocks.  I should have.  It was no use telling himself the adults would certainly have told him to go on about his business, that he was a stranger in Remen and the Aiel was none of his concern.  I should have tried. 

    No answers came to him, so he went back to the beginning and patiently worked through it once more, then again, and again.  Still he found nothing except regret for what he had not done.

Perrin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 322

    Apart from having an abundance of basic human decency and irritation towards seeing other people caged; Perrin deals with a feeling towards which readers everywhere can relate: guilt towards not taking action.  We've all had those moments that, once passed, we regretted what we could have or should have done or said.  This isn't about the perfect comeback to 'win' an argument.  This passage is a commentary on all those minute deviations from our principles that, over time, drive us towards a space we never intended to occupy.  Perrin's self-reflection and critical (and brutally honest) assessment of his actions bind him back to his principles, preventing him from losing his integrity.  As he faces the only judge that matters, himself, he systematically deconstructs the entire event; leaving himself bare to the regret of actions not taken.  Make no mistake; this is incredibly challenging to do.  Stripping away all the myriad of excuses that the mind can concoct, maintaining objectivity towards the event, and acknowledging the feelings about it without judgment each take a tremendous amount of focus and effort.  When combined, it's quite the mountain to climb.  This is a set of skills that develops only over time with consistent application.  It's one of the reasons that leadership is hard.  Even worse, in our results oriented organizations, encouraging such self-mastery often takes a backseat to simply 'getting the job done'; as that's the benchmark for success. 

    When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me that if I could look in the mirror and say that I tried my best, did everything I could, then that was success.  Unfortunately, we all often claim to be doing 'everything we can'.   One of my brand new employees was relaying a similar story: he was working a project and it was in a bad way.  He told the stakeholder the bad news and that he was doing everything he could.  The stakeholder replied: 'don't tell me you're doing everything you can until you're doing everything you can.'  Brutal - but accurate.  Often, our version of doing everything we can is just taking those actions that we can use to deflect blame when it all falls apart.  To truly live up to dad's standard requires Perrin's level of self-mastery.  Time to go back and free an Aielman in a cage.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 31 & 32 [#100Days, Day 98]

Putting The 'I' Back In 'Team'

    Fresh from a fall off a bridge with a now dead Gray Man, Mat stumbles into another inn.  This time, he runs across Thom Merrilin and invites Thom to join in his escape from Tar Valon.  Thom agrees and the two literally jump onto the first ship heading in the direction of Andor.  Scrabbling onboard Mat and Thom negotiate the price of passage; which due to the state of world affairs has increased dramatically.

    "As you may have noticed, Captain, I am a gleeman."  Even in the open air, his voice suddenly seemed to echo.  "For the price of our passages, I would be more than glad to entertain your passengers and your crew - "

Thom Merrilin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 298

    Thom's opening attempt at free passage gets completely overrun by Mat's haste to use money to solve the problem.  Mat completely forgot the capabilities of his traveling companion.  Had he paused for a moment and recalled the previous river trip with Thom in The Eye of the World, he would have recalled that gleemen generally travel for free, with a little time taken for negotiation up front.  The step forward in maturity from the last chapter is almost completely undone by Mat's hasty, albeit very direct and effective, problem solving.  His haste is rewarded with the captain's cabin, prime accommodations that require sharing a bed with a heavy snoring Thom. 

    "If you had settled for booting some poor fellows out of their cabin instead of taking the captain's, we'd each have a bed to ourselves, narrow and hard as it might be.  Now we have to share Mallia's.  I hope you don't snore, boy.  I cannot abide snoring."

    Mat ground his teeth.  As he recalled, Thom had a snore like a woodrasp working on an oak knot.  He had forgotten that.

Thom and Mat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 302

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 30 [#100Days, Day 97]

Leader Development: Mat Cauthon

    Mat, letter in hand, leaves the Tower under pretenses of a night of gambling, with the end goal to leave Tar Valon entirely.  He fills his pockets and multiple purses with gold; his luck on an incredible winning streak.  Leaving his final inn for the evening, he's (poorly) pursued by footpads.

    Hefting the quarterstaff, he briefly considered turning to confront them.  But it was dark, and the footing on the cobblestones uncertain, and he had no idea how many there were.  Just because you did wll against Gawyn and Galad doesn't make you a bloody hero out of a story. ...
    Mat tensed.  If they came just a few steps closer before they noticed him hiding in the deeper shadows of the corner, he could take them by surprise.  He wished his stomach would stop fluttering.  Those knives were a great deal shorter than the practice swords, but they were steel, not wood.

Mat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 284

    Unlike the overconfidence and bluster the Black Ajah showed Nynaeve and the others in the last chapter; Mat's tilted the scales the other direction.  Beating Gawyn and Galad in a practice match earlier shows that Mat has considerable skill with the quarterstaff; however, instead of rushing headlong into an unknown situation like he would have mere months earlier, he pauses to analyze and think it through.  He knows his own skill level, but keeps his ego in check by making few assumptions about his opponents.  Instead of turning to face them openly, he seeks opportunities to set the battlefield to his own advantage as best he can - sometimes surprise is the only option.  He keeps himself focused on the overall mission, escaping Tar Valon, instead of falling victim to youthful exuberance and an egotistical desire to prove himself; thereby influencing his decision to avoid the battle to win the war.  Mat's put considerable distance between his current self and the smug, snot-nosed trickster he was.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 29 [#100Days, Day 96]

Overconfident

    Nynaeve, Elayne and Egwene, hard at work in the kitchens, are approached by the Amyrlin curious about an update on their progress.  Egwene and Elayne get carted off under some pretense the Amyrlin concocts to minimize eavesdroppers to get their mouths washed out with soap, leaving Nynaeve to give the update.  Else Grinwell, who pointed the three women onto the path of finding the belongings the Black Ajah left behind, is revealed to have been dismissed from the White Tower weeks ago.

    Nynaeve tried to swallow the lump that formed in her throat.  The Amyrlin's words made her think of bullies taunting smaller children.  The bullies were always so contemptuous of the littler children, always so sure the small ones were too stupid to realize what was happening, that they made little effort to disguise their snares.  That the Black Ajah was so contemptuous of her made her blood boil.  That they could set this snare filled her stomach with ice.  Light, if Else was sent away ... Light, anybody I talk to could be Liandrin, or any of the others.  Light!
Nynaeve, The Dragon Reborn, p. 274

    The Black Ajah is insanely overconfident.  If murder and theft wasn't enough, overconfidence and swagger about it is twisting the knife.  From a plot perspective, it's necessary to drive the women to follow them to Tear.  From a leadership and organizational management perspective, it's an absolute Achilles' heel.  Assuming that they're unmatched sets them on the path for their demise.  Part of what keeps top performing organizations on top is their drive to keep pushing the limit.  An element of that is the assumption that some competitor is "better, faster, more."  Having the idea that the organization is untouchable leads to complacency.  Complacency becomes infectious; starting in one small area and rapidly spreading; product quality drops off and, by extension, revenue.  Although, if the Black Ajah went out of commission, the world wouldn't mind.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 28 [#100Days, Day 95]

A Smile And A Wink

    Mat is approached by Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne to carry a letter from Elayne to her mother, Queen Morgase.  In a sort of comical interlude, we see several attempts by the three women to bring Mat around to their way of thinking.

    "You're up to something, Nyanaeve.  You are all smiling like cats staring at a finch caught in a thornbush, and I think I am the finch."

Mat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 264

    "I told you we should ask him straight out.  He's stubborn as a mule when he wants to be, and tricksome as a cat.  You are, Mat.  You know it, so stop frowning."

Egwene, The Dragon Reborn, p. 264

    "I want you to carry a letter for me," Elayne said before Nynaeve could speak.  "To my moyther, in Caemlyn."  She smiled, making a dimple in her cheek.  "I would appreciate it so very much, Mat." ... From the look on her face, he did not think that dimple had failed her very often. ...

    She drew herself up, slim and proud.  He could almost see a throne behind her.  "Are you a loyal subject of Andor?  Do you not wish to serve the Lion Throne, and your Daughter-Heir?"

    Mat snickered.

    "I told you that would not work either," Egwene said.  "Not with him."

    Elayne had a wry twist to her mouth. "I thought it worth a try.  It always works on the Guards, in Caemlyn.  You said if I smiled - " She cut off short, obviously not looking at him.

Elayne, Mat, and Egwene, The Dragon Reborn, p. 264 - 265

    Communication - so frequently discussed in leadership - only yields success if sender and recipient fully understand each other.  In the case of wanting someone to do a task they may find unappealing, it's even more critical to ensure the message is clear.  It's tempting to try and do what Elayne and Nynaeve do, prod them into doing the task without them realizing it; but that fractures the long-term relationship. The phrase "Can I be honest with you?" in a conversation implies that everything up until that point has been dishonest.  Yet that phrase, or others similar, seem to be used frequently as an attempt to appear even more genuine to get the other person to perform the unappealing tasks.  It's far better to be continually honest, passing on the facts clearly, minimizing emotional outbursts, while articulating the reasoning behind the requests as much as possible.  Then match words with action.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 26 & 27 [#100Days, Day 94]

The Power Of Intent: The Amyrlin Seat

    Egwene, Elayne and Nyaneve get a tip from another novice about the hiding place of all the belongings for Liandrin and the rest of her Black Ajah runaways.  Upon further inspection, the search reveals some clues about their intended destination.  Once again, the clues are scattered too precisely to be completely random; giving only the illusion of randomness Elayne discussed in the previous chapter.  Egwene uses her ter'angreal to enter the World of Dreams.  She meets an old woman who seems to show her what the Black Ajah is after in Tear.  Now the women have an intended destination, trap though it may be, and are poised to execute.

    "We will give the Amyrlin one more chance to seek us out.  When we finish with breakfast, you both pack what you want to take, but keep it light.  We have to leave the Tower without anyone noticing, remember.  If the Amyrlin doesn't reach us by midday, I mean to on a trading ship, shoving that paper down the captain's throat if need be, before Prime sounds.  How does that sound to you two?"

Nynaeve, The Dragon Reborn, p. 262

    The Amyrlin gave clear guidance - hunt the Black Ajah - but left it open enough to allow the women freedom to maneuver as the situation develops.  They have both autonomy and authority to do what's needed to complete their task.  In situations where communications are challenging, compromised or non-existent, such as combat, this is completely vital to success.  But the principles enjoy success everywhere; after all, no one enjoys a micromanager.  As leaders, it's our task to focus on achieving the goals, but give the teams latitude into how it gets accomplished.  It spurs creativity and innovation and keeps morale high.  It gives each team member a sense of purpose and accomplishment upon completion of their tasks.  It allows the leader the ability to drop down into the details when needed, but maintain focus on the larger picture and think ahead. 

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 25 [#100Days, Day 93]

None Of Us Is As Smart As All Of Us

    Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve are now fully engaged in their hunt for the Black Ajah.  Currently, their efforts are focused on a couple of documents given to them by Verin: a list of those who left with Liandrin and a list of what they stole.  Hardly a tremendous start, but better than nothing at all.

    Nynaeve came to a halt staring down at Elayne.  "Put those away.  We have been over them twenty times, and there isn't a word that helps.  Verin gave us rubbish.  The question is, was it all she had, or did she give us rubbish on purpose?"

Nynaeve, The Dragon Reborn, p. 235

    "It tells us it is all too neat," Elayne said calmly.  "What chance that thirteen women chosen solely because they were Darkfriends would be so neatly arrayed across age, across nations, across Ajahs?  Shouldn't there be perhaps three Reds, or four born in Cairhien, or just two the same age, if it was all chance?  They had women to choose from or they could not have chosen so random a pattern.  There are still Black Ajah in the Tower, or elsewhere we don't know about.  It must mean that."

Elayne, The Dragon Reborn, p. 236

    The women somewhat stumble upon the benefit of working as a team: expanded points of view leading to multiple theories and avenues to attack the problem.  A large part of that comes from the trust they share.  Unlike a high school lab project, where, inevitably, only one person does the work carrying everyone; a team that trusts each member allows them to spin off and look at the problem from their own view and experience.  This provides, presumably, a multitude of options from which to choose to best solve the issue.  The voice of new team members cannot be discounted.  Being brand new to the team, they lack the institutional biases and pre-conceived notions that can skew the views of other team members.  This happened to me on my walk home today.  I was talking with one of my brand new direct reports, he's been on the team for less than a week, and he was describing an idea he had discussed with one of our other team members about how to soften the blow of moving people's workspace to other areas.  The rest of us, myself included, were so caught up in the details of how to execute the move that we didn't see the "obvious" benefit about advertising it to the local human resources office to stem the flood of complaints.  A relatively simple and easy thing to accomplish, with potentially high impact results; and we almost missed it.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 24 [#100Days, Day 92]

A Way Out

    Switching back to Mat, we see him probing the White Tower guards in his attempt to leave Tar Valon.  True to her word, the Amyrlin did send Aes Sedai out to all the guards, drilling them in all the details of Mat's appearance so they can recognize him on sight. 

    He had simply meant to find out how well his description had been passed around.  If only the officers among the bridge guards had had it, he might have been able to slip by.  He had always been good at slipping into places unseen.

Mat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 224

    Mat's putting into practice his father's penchant for thinking problems through from every angle.  Going back to the OODA Loop model, Mat's heavily engaged in the Observe and Orient phases, as he looks for weaknesses to slip through.  In this instance, it seems that Mat's flipped the OODA Loop around; he's already decided on his larger goal - the act of escape - and is now working to observing where the holes in the nets lie. 

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 21, 22 & 23 [#100Days, Day 91]

When Things Fall Apart

    Egwene completes the Accepted's Trials, facing her fears.  Verin Sedai gives Egwene a ter-angreal to assist her in her efforts of becoming a Dreamer.  It seems that the ter-angreal Dreaming ring caused some interference with the Accepted's Trials ter-angreal, nearly melting it into the floor with Egwene lost inside.  Alanna Sedai noticed the interference initially, and ignored it, allowing the Trials to continue; where the initial interference resonated to near-catastrophic magnitude.

    "Child, I should have stopped this when I had the chance, when I first noticed that - reverberation.  It came back.  That is what happened.  It came back a thousandfold.  Ten thousand.  The ter-angreal almost seemed to be trying to shut off the flow from saidar - or melt itself through the floor.  You have my apologies, though words are not enough.  Not for what almost happened to you.  I say this, and by the First Oath you know it is true.  To show my feelings, I will ask the Mother to let me share you time in the kitchens.  And, yes, your visit to Sheriam, too.  Had I done as I should, you would not have been in danger of your life, and I will atone for it."
Alanna Sedai, The Dragon Reborn, p. 216
    "I never heard of such a thing," the Amyrlin barked.  "The owner doesn't muck out with the bilge boys even if he has run the boat on a mudflat."  She glanced at Egwene, and worry tightened her eyes.  And anger.  "I share your concern, Alanna.  Whatever this child has done, it did not deserve that.  Very well.  If it will assuage your feelings, you may visit Sheriam.  But it is to be strictly between you two.  I'll not have Aes Sedai held up to ridicule, even inside the Tower.
The Amrylin Seat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 218

    Guilt following a failure is a natural set of feelings.  Perhaps Alanna seeks to atone via a way that matches the "normal" punishments novices and Accepted face inside the Tower.  Still, as a leader, it's unacceptable - even if the Amyrlin tacitly condones it.  More appropriate, Alanna should have stepped forward to promise Egwene that she would determine what went wrong inside the ter-angreal - a task that the Amyrlin had to assign when Alanna didn't think of it on her own. When things go wrong, there's always an urge to immediately rush to do something.  For leaders, that urge needs to get transformed into trusting your people to already be taking the immediate actions.  Leaders need to be thinking ahead, communicating, keeping teams focused on taking the immediate actions and removing barriers to follow-on stabilizing actions.  Blame can be assigned well after.  

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 20 [#100Days, Day 90]

Through The Fire And The Flames

    The Amyrlin gave an exasperated sigh.  "You remind me of my uncle Huan.  NO one could ever pin him down.  He liked to gamble, too, and he'd much rather have fun than work.  He died pulling children out of a burning house.  He wouldn't stop going back as long as there was one left inside.  Are you like him, Mat?  Will you be there when the flames are high?
The Amyrlin Seat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 183

    I've always been a fan of this passage.  It's an apt description of Mat, although at this point, it's mostly the carefree gambler we see.  Yet, sometimes we see the man willing to charge headlong into the flames, like Huan.  As leaders, it's our task to provide opportunities for our people to develop, as well as opportunities to showcase what they're made of.  It's often a tough balance.  Training is critical, yet often cut in favor of organizational priorities.  Along the same vein, taking a risk and providing an opportunity for unproven talent to step into the spotlight gets pushed aside in favor of the known quantity; especially when the organizational stakes are high.  Instead of looking for the burning house, maybe start with the small campfire.  The risk of failure needs to be real, but also manageable.  Expecting an expert after a lengthy training session is just as unreasonable, especially if they've had no time to implement what was taught in the classroom.  As they shine, continue to challenge them in different ways, not just with bigger risks of failure.  It's incredibly hard work; but the idea is to one day walk in and realize you're not needed.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 18 & 19 [#100Days, Day 89]

Leader Development: Mat

    The Amyrlin and several Aes Sedai link together and Heal Mat, breaking him from the link from the dagger of Shadar Logoth.  He awakes, still extremely weak, in visitor's chambers in the White Tower, holes in his memory filled with memories of other men in other times and places.  Along with a seeming fluidity of the Old Tongue.

    You can turn the worst that comes to your advantage is you only think, his father always said, and certainly Abell Cauthon was the best horse trader in the Two Rivers.  When it seemed somebody had taken advantage of Mat's father, it always turned out they had gotten the greasy end of the stick. Not that Abell Cauthon ever did anything dishonest, but even Taren Ferry folk never got the best of him, and everybody knew how close to the bone they cut.  All because he thought about things from every side that there was.

Mat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 169 - 170

    Normally quick to leap without looking, Mat's growing a little caution.  Not to prevent any foolhardiness, but more likely to ensure any foolish ideas work to maximize his advantage.  Still, it's impressive to see Mat slowing down to think, even if it's forced on him because he's so weak he can barely stand and has nothing to do but think.  Leadership is about options; and being able to act quickly to keep options flowing.  Mat's beginning to recognize this and starting to develop the detailed thinking that's required of a good leader.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 17 [#100Days, Day 88]

Emotional Intelligence VII: When NOT To Go To War

    As Elayne, Nynaeve and Egwene contemplate their task of hunting down the Black Ajah, Elaida Sedai, Queen Morgase's former advisor, interrupts them, eager for details on their exploits. 

    "The two of you," Elaida went on in a casual tone, "vanish, taking with you the Daughter-Heir of Andor - the girl who may become Queen of Andor one day, if I do not strip the hide off her hide and sell it to a glove maker - vanish without permission, without a word, without a trace."

    "I was not carried off," Elayne said to the floor.  "I went of my own will."

    "Will you obey me, child?' A glow surrounded Elaida.  The Aes Sedai's glare was fixed on Elayne.  "Must I teach you, here and now?"

    Elayne raised her head, and there was not mistaking what was in her face.  Anger.  For a long moment she met Elaida's stare.

Elaida Sedai and Elayne,The Dragon Reborn, p. 156

    Even reading it, you can feel the tension build to a snapping point.  Elayne very nearly lets her old habits of being the Daughter-Heir in the court of Andor rule her actions in a place where she is no different than an innkeeper's daughter.  Elaida's position is well fortified, backed up with the One Power.  For Elayne to attempt anything aggressive in her anger would be virtual suicide.  Never attack an entrenched position; philosophical or literal.  That email written with emotions flying off the handle may feel amazing in the moment, but once it's sent, you've committed yourself to a war that's probably not worth it.  In the end, needed relationships will be damaged, sometimes beyond repair, and the unity of the organization suffers. 

    Egwene's fingernails dug into her palms.  It was maddening.  She, or Elayne, or Nynaeve, could destroy Elaida where she sat.  If they caught Elaida by surprise, at least; she was fully trained, after all.  And if we do anything but take whatever she wants to feed us, we throw everything away.   Don't throw it away now, Elayne.

Egwene, The Dragon Reborn, p. 156

    Take the emotion out of it and maneuver around.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapters 15 & 16 [#100Days, Day 87]

Leader Development: Nynaeve

    Following their dismissal from the Amyrlin's offices, Nynaeve and Egwene find themselves targets of a Gray Man.  Egwene barely misses a crossbow bolt to the head.  The two women give chase, and find the Gray Man dead with a knife in his chest.  The Mistress of Novices conveniently arrives shortly after to assist in cleaning up the dead Gray Man. 

    "Did you notice what Sheriam did not mention?"

    "No. What?"

    " She never wondered who stabbed him.  Now, come on.  My room is just down here, and you can put your feet up while we talk."

Nynaeve and Egwene, The Dragon Reborn, p. 146

    "There is something else, too," Nynaeve said.  "I am afraid the Amyrlin may mean to let Mat die."

    "But an Aes Sedai is supposed to Heal anyone who asks."  The Daughter-Heir seemed caught between indignation and disbelief.  "Why would she let Mat die?  I cannot believe it!  I will not!"

    "Nor can I!"  Egwene gasped.  She could not have meant that!  The Amyrlin couldn't let him die!  "All the way here Verin said that the Amyrlin would see he was Healed."

    Nynaeve shook her head.  "Verin said the Amrylin would 'see to him.'  That is not the same thing.  And the Amyrlin avoided saying yes or no when I asked her.  Maybe she has not made her mind up."

    "But why?" Elayne asked.

    "Because the White Tower does what it does for its own reasons."  Nynaeve's voice made Egwene shiver.  "I do not know why.  Whether they help Mat live or let him die depends on what serves their ends.  None of the Three Oaths says they have to Heal him.  Mat is just a tool, in the Amyrlin's eyes.  So are we.  She will use us to hunt the Black Ajah, but if you break a tool so it cannot be fixed, you don't weep over it.  You just get another one.  Both of you had best remember that."

Nynaeve, Elayne and Egwene, The Dragon Reborn, p. 153 - 154

    Nynaeve is quickly developing a questioning attitude.  Not taking information at face value, but probing deeper - questing for motives and meaning.  This is a tough skill to master; and it really only comes with time and experience.  Nynaeve has a more varied experience base now than she did when we first met her in Emond's Field.  Egwene, by comparison, hasn't picked up on the small details that lead to good questions.  She takes Sheriam's actions with Gray Man with the same surety that she would any Aes Sedai - clearly because they are Aes Sedai, they must know best.  And then she does it again while trying to reconcile Nynaeve's assessment that Mat just may not be Healed.  Nynaeve's questions may be colored by her mistrust of Moiraine, and by extension, most Aes Sedai; but the matching of detail oriented eye and calm, probing questions is a step in a more positive direction than her normal temperamental self; flogging everyone about her with her staff.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 14 [#100Days, Day 86]

A Bad Plan Well Executed...

    Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne are brought before the Amyrlin Seat and given severe punishments for running away.  The Amyrlin dismisses Elayne, holds Egwene and Nynaeve back and enlists them to find the Black Ajah traitors.  

    "You are the only two in the Tower I can be absolutely sure are not Black Ajah."  The Amyrlin's mouth still twisted around those words.  "Liandrin and her twelve went, but did all of them go?  Or did they leave some of their number behind, like a stub in shallow water that you don't see until it is too late, but I will not let Liandrin and the others get away with what they did.  Not the theft, and especially not the murders.  No one kills my people and walks away unscathed.  And I'll not let thirteen trained Aes Sedai serve the Shadow.  I mean to find them and still them!"
    "I don't see what this has to do with us," Nynaeve said slowly.  She did not look as if she liked what she was thinking.
    "Just this, child.  You two are to be my hounds, hunting the Black Ajah.  No one will believe it of you, not a pair of half-trained Accepted I humiliated publicly."
    "That is crazy!" Nynaeve's eyes had opened wide by the time the Amyrlin reached the words "Black Ajah," and her knuckles were white from the grip on her braid.  She bit her words off and spat them: "They are full Aes Sedai.  Egwene hasn't even been raised to Accepted yet, and you know I cannot channel enough to light a candle unless I am angry, not of my own free will.  What chance would we have?"
Nynaeve and the Amyrlin Seat, The Dragon Reborn, p. 135

    Sending two barely trained Accepted out to catch known murderers and Darkfriends is ... a bad plan.  For the Amyrlin to regain the advantage lost by the sudden strike by Liandrin and her cohort, she needs to act quickly.  Egwene and Nynaeve are not the ideal candidates for this mission; but what they lack in strength they make up for in loyalty; at least in the Amyrlin's eyes.  Most important to her is to have eyes and ears she can trust, instead of the possibility of a full Aes Sedai owing allegiance to the Shadow and spoiling the hunt.

    Deciding when to act and then acting decisively are some of the hardest decisions to make as a leader.  Previously, I've mentioned that continual waiting for situations to develop leads to failure.  Similarly, waiting on additional information to refine the plan to perfection also wastes the single irreplaceable resource: time.  I've run into this problem the past two days at work: a ship has an engine issue and wants a repair at an off-site location, away from her normal home-port.  My first thought when the request came through was: "this is a terrible plan!"  And it's definitely not ideal: mobilizing people, parts, tools, and equipment commits finite resources to a task and situation that we don't completely understand at the moment.  What if the team isn't adequate and I need more folks out there? What if the tools are incorrect? What if our understanding of the task requirements are totally off base? What if ...? What if ...? As I sat and tried to quash the request, a better reaction emerged: plan for the job we know and deal with countless what ifs later.  Is the plan "bad" simply because it's a significant stretch outside the normal comfort zone for the teams, or is it bad because it's truly flawed and not executable?  At the moment, I'm leaning towards the first one; and all I could think of is "we do hard every day, this is no different."  Even the text I sent my boss was: "this is a bad plan, executable, but bad."  Execute and keep attacking the problems as they emerge. 

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 13 [#100Days, Day 85]

What Does 'Good' Look Like?

    It was a stark, windowless room, like all those in the novices' quarters, small and square and painted white, with pegs on one wall for hanging her belongings, the bed built beside a second, and a tiny shelf on a third, where in other days she had kept a few books borrowed from the Tower library.  A washstand and a three-legged stool completed the furnishings.  The floorboards were almost white from scrubbing.  She had done that task, on hands and knees, every day she had lived there, in addition to her other chores and lessons.  Novices lived simply, whether they were innkeepers' daughters of the Daughter-Heir of Andor.

Egwene, The Dragon Reborn, p. 121

Previously, I've mentioned the need for leaders to have a keen eye for detail.  Part of developing that trait involves contrast.  With a room of minimal furnishings, it's easy for Egwene to notice if she'll pass the next inspection, just as it's easy for any Aes Sedai to evaluate Egwene's effectiveness at her chores.  "A place for every thing and a thing for every place" is a phrase often used in the 5S program.  A dedicated, obvious, easily understood inventory management system provides a number of advantages:

  • Makes it extremely obvious when items are missing, which in turn,
  • Eliminates time wasted by people looking for items (tools, material, parts, etc) and
  • Prevents overspending on continual purchase of these "high-use" items, which in turn,
  • Reduces over-inventory, which also
  • Reduces storage costs

    All of this means that the resource that matters the most, the people, are spending more time accomplishing tasks supporting the aims of the organization, instead of shuffling around trying to find "stuff".  Providing contrast, or defining what "good looks like," allows leaders to spot tiny problems before they become large, unmanageable ones.  An engine room on a ship, for instance, should be one of the cleanest areas around.  It seems counter-intuitive, but a brightly lit and spotless engine room as the benchmark for "good", means that anyone, even the newest sailor aboard, can walk around and quickly spot a leak and raise the issue.  By comparison, a dark, oily engine room will hide all those small indicators that precede large problems: oil leaks, water leaks, fuel leaks, frayed wiring.  It's similar for aircraft repair; tool control is a tremendously important program: aircraft don't fly well with wrenches left in engines.  To solve this and present the standard definition of "good", hangers are also well lit, with tools marked and generally kept in shadow-boxes, so that any tool not in its designated outline at the end of a shift is a red flag for immediate action. 

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 12 [#100Days, Day 84]

Leader Assessment: Siuan Sanche and The Long View

    This chapter gives the first real glimpse of how the Aes Sedai, particularly the Amyrlin Seat, earned the reputation of puppet-masters for the world.  Siuan Sanche, sits at the center of an intricate web of information, plots and misdirection.  

    Ten years with the stole, she thought.  Nearly twenty since I decided to sail these dangerous waters.  And if I slip now, I'll wish I were back hauling nets.
Siuan Sanche, The Dragon Reborn, p. 116

    "The true Dragon has been Reborn," Verin said almost to herself, "and so the Pattern has no room for false Dragons anymore.  We have loosed the Dragon on the world.  The Light have mercy on us."
    The Amyrlin shook her head irritably.  "We have done what must be done."  And if even the newest novice learns of it, I will be stilled before the next sunrise, if I'm not torn to pieces first.  Me, and Moiraine, and Verin, and likely anyone thought to be a friend of ours, as well.  It was not easy to carry on so great a conspiracy when only three women knew of it, when even a close friend would betray them and consider it a duty well done.  L
ight, but I wish I could be sure they would not be right to do it.
Verin and Siuan, The Dragon Reborn, p. 117 - 118
    "So long as Mat lives," Verin went on, "the Horn of Valere is no more than a horn to anyone else.  If he dies, of course, another can sound it and forge a new link between man and Horn."  Her gaze was steady and untroubled by what she seemed to be suggesting.
    "Many will die before we are done, Daughter."  And who else could I use to sound it again?  I'll not take the risk of trying to return it to Moiraine, now.  One of the Gaidin, perhaps.  Perhaps.  "The Pattern has yet to make his fate clear."

Verin and Siuan, The Dragon Reborn, p. 118 - 119

    Plots within secrecy.  At a glance, it appears that the rest of humanity is nothing more than means to various ends for the Amyrlin Seat.  She is gifted with a particularly strategic vision - twenty years is a long time to remain focused on such a vision of success.  It's quite a bit different than starting something from the ground up, creating a Facebook or Apple, etc.  She was part of the organization; novice to Accepted to Aes Sedai.  Working through an organization to get to a position to put it on her back and haul it in the direction it needs to go is quite a feat; bureaucratic inertia notwithstanding.  Had she been a wilder and gifted with the same vision, she would have had certainly more freedom in the methods of her search for the Dragon Reborn, but she would have lacked the infinite (by comparison) resources the White Tower offers.  Her navigation through the intricate plots, infighting, alliances and misdirection gives Siuan a cunning bordering on terrifying.  

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 11 [#100Days, Day 83]

First Reports Are Always Wrong

    Verin, Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve, Hurin and a very sick Mat arrive in Tar Valon.  While not in complete chaos, the outlying villages are the sites of stand-offs between the Tar Valon guards and the Whitecloaks.  Inside the city proper, the daily hubbub is drowned out in some places by rumors and reports from other lands.

    "Pardon, Aes Sedai, but you've obviously come from a distance.  Have you any news?  Fresh rumors come upriver with every trading vessel.  They say there's a new false Dragon out west somewhere.  Why, they even say he has Artur Hawkwing's armies, back from the dead, following him, and that he killed a lot of Whitecloaks and destroyed a city - Falme, they call it - in Tarabon, some say."
    "They say Aes Sedai helped him!" a man's voice shouted from the waiting line.  Hurin breathed deeply, and shifted himself as if he expected violence. ...
    "Rumors are seldom true," Verin told him.  "I can tell you that Falme still stands.  It isn't even in Tarabon, guardsman.  Listen less to rumor, and more to the Amyrlin Seat.  The Light shine on you."

Verin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 106 - 107

    Even without modern communication methods, news and rumors travel quickly.  It's no different, really, than the "Telephone Game" we played as children: take a long line of children, form them in a line, and whisper a sentence at the beginning.  At the end of the line, the original thought is so twisted and garbled, it's often complete and utter nonsense.  Remember that communication is a two way process - just as garbled nonsense can reach the CEO's ears; so too can the CEO's message get corrupted and fragmented once it reaches the rest of the workforce.  Even among teams, communications can get fractured and confused.  Understanding the interactions and nodes of communication is so important that Project Management Institute has over 700 articles keyworded to communication.  And an equation that candidates for PMP Certification are required to memorize:

Number of (potential) communications channels = [n(n-1)]/2; where n is number of stakeholders

    So, for a team of 10 that's 45 potential communications avenues.  Doubling the team to 20 more than quadruples the potential communications channels to 190!  A "tiny" organization of 50 has 1,225 potential internal comms pathways alone - no wonder news travels quickly and gets distorted.  Understanding the complexity of communications is critical to developing a habit of asking questions driving to the truth to get the organization focused on solving the right issues.  Not the issue someone heard about that one time.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 10 [#100Days, Day 82]

Emotional Intelligence VI: Keep Calm And Aes Sedai

    Shifting to Verin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Mat, and Hurin, who are making their way to Tar Valon, they encounter a small group of Whitecloaks.  The Whitecloaks stop the small group; delaying them in their attempt to get Mat to Healing. 

    "The Children have authority where the Light is, witch, and where the Light is not, we bring it.  Answer my questions! Or must I take you to our camp and let the Questioners ask?"
    Mat could not afford any more delay in reaching help in the White Tower.  And more importantly - Egwene winced to think of it that way - more importantlty, the could not let the contents of that sack fall into Whitecloak hands.
    "I have answered you," Verin said, still calm, "and more politely than you deserve.  Do you really believe you can stop us?"  Some of the Whitecloaks raised their bows as if she had uttered a threat, but she went on, her voice never rising.  "In some lands you may hold sway by your threats, but no here, in sight of Tar Valon.  Can you truly believe that in this place, you will be allowed to carry off Aes Sedai?"

Verin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 99

    Verin remains calm throughout a most frustrating encounter with the Whitecloaks.  Her outward lack of emotion causes doubts to rise in the Whitecloak ranks.  In comparison, Elayne and Egwene choose more aggressive postures, with Elayne openly identifying herself as the Daughter-Heir of Andor and Egwene answering with violence.

    "I am Elayne, Daughter-Heir of Andor.  If you do not move aside at once, you will have Queen Morgase to answer to, Whitecloak!"  Verin hissed in vexation.
    The Whitecloak looked take aback for an instant, but then laughed. ...
    There's no more time to wait, Egwene thought.  I will not be chained again! ... You will not take me!
    The man's hand was still going up.  With a roar the ground in front of him erupted in a narrow fountain of dirt and rocks higher than his head.  Screaming, his horse reared, and he rolled out of his saddle like a sack.
    Before he hit the ground, Egwene shifted her focus closer to the other Whitecloaks, and the ground threw up another small explosion.

Elayne and Egwene, The Dragon Reborn, p. 99 - 100

    In their haste, the younger women immediately reverse the course of the encounter.  Slow Verin's path may have been, but it would likely have resulted in the Whitecloaks grudgingly letting the women continue on their way.  Instead, Elayne's entitlement and Egwene's PTSD-induced paranoia make the worst of the situation.  Even cleaning up their mess, Verin keeps (mostly) calm.

    Verin regarded the Whitecloak wearliy.  "He was only trying to bully us, child.  He knew very well he could not make us go where we did not want, not without more trouble than he was willing to accept.  Not here, not in sight of Tar Valon.  I could have talked us past him, with a  little time and a little patience.  Oh, he might have tried to kill us if he could have done it from hiding, but no Whitecloak with the brains of a goat will try harming an Aes Sedai who knows he is there.  See what you have done!  What stories will those men tell, and what harm will it do?"

Verin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 101 - 102

    Keeping emotions in check, even in stressful situations facilitates clarity of thought.  For Verin, she's able to think several moves down the board, to the after effects of the younger women's actions.  I've mentioned before about remaining calm, especially when unpleasant news is delivered; it keeps the information flowing and keeps the stress levels of the organization and teams down.  One my bosses at the shipyard was fond of saying that he had to have an "unquenchable thirst for bad news" - dealing with problems is a large part of leadership.  It's tough to reign in the emotions; passion for the job and doing it right keeps teams motivated.  However, twisting that passion to give voice to frustration and annoyance just ends up working against the team.  Sometimes it's as simple as taking a deep breath; other times it may be necessary to (calmly!) explain the emotions being felt and why.  But outbursts, verbal or rock showers, do nothing positive.


Side Note: I appreciate the reality Jordan gives Egwene in her post-damane days.  Having everything just simply return to normal would have been completely unbelievable.  While her actions are somewhat annoying from the outsider's perspective; I find them completely true to form for someone who dealt with such an intense prisoner situation.  Her quickness to violence stems from a desire to shield herself from being hopeless to stop others from forcing her to it - an interesting perspective.

The Dragon Reborn - Chapter 9 [#100Days, Day 81]

Willing to Make Tough Choices

    "If I can keep you whole, I will.  I promise you that, Perrin.  But I will not endanger the struggle against the Shadow.  You must know that too."
    When he turned to look at her, she was regarding him unblinkingly.  And if your struggle means putting me in my grave tomorrow, will you do that, too?  He was icily sure that she would.

    Moiraine and Perrin, The Dragon Reborn, p. 86

    Part of Moraine's nature as a leader is a complete willingness to make the tough choice; up to and including her life and the lives of those around her.  Her complete comittment to the cause nearly rushes through admirable into the realm of terrifying.  However, as leaders, we must all be prepared to make tough decisions; usually along the similar theme of organizational interest over the individual.  Removing someone from the team is never pleasant, but sometimes necessary.  It's (generally) a permanent decision, with that individual's removal, so to goes all their contribution and effort.  However, if the cause more headaches than they remove, then perhaps it's more desirable to find someplace where their talents can flourish.  Rarely are people malicious; that's a fairly easy decision - removal.  Everyone has skills, but there are times when those skills don't match the needs of the team or organization.  And those folks tend to know, in some way, that they're not the best fit for the job at the moment.  It may not be glaringly obvious to them, but the observant leader can pick up on the small details on the nature of their interactions with other team members, particularly stakeholders.  Frustration is contagious, so the need to act decisively is paramount.  Often, it's better to play a man down, than to try and press forward with a disrupted full complement.  It's a strain on the rest of the team, as the burdens have to shift to accomodate (read as general workload increase) - nothing is ever easy.