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 - Prologue [#100Days, Day 74]

War of Words

    Book three starts with Pedron Niall, the Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light, interviewing survivors of his men at Falme.  Child Byar, late of Geofram Bornhald's legion is the first; giving a direct, soldier's take on the situation.  Niall's conversation with Jaichim Carridin is more interesting.

    ... Carridin smiled.  "I promise you, I will be successful before summer."

    Niall nodded.  The man was confident, now.  Sure the dangerous questions would already have come, if they were coming.  You should have remembered, Carridin, I was accounted a fine tactician.  "Why," he said quietly, "did you not take your own forces to Falme?  With Darkfriends on Toman Head, an army of them holding Falme, why did you try to stop Bornhald?"

Carridin and Niall, The Dragon Reborn, p. xxi

    The battle of wits and words goes on, with Niall outmaneuvering Carridin, binding him into a corner to support Niall's initiative to keep the Dragon Reborn alive until he commands his death.

    Niall smiled a cold smile.  "In case you oath is not strong enough, know this.  If this false Dragon dies before I command his death, or if he is taken by the Tar Valon witches, you will be found one morning with a dagger in your heart.  And should any ... accident ... befall me - even if I should die of old age - you will not survive me the month."

Pedron Niall, The Dragon Reborn, p. xxiii

    Carridin's confident smirk is shattered as he finds himself bound tightly to Niall's purpose.  Niall's ability to plan and then to capitalize on broken plans, assists him in dealing with the overconfident subordinate.  Niall capitalizes on the crisis in Falme to find another option to gain a larger foothold in the region, and turn a likely rival to his cause (albeit by force).  I've used the delayed strike tactic myself; avoiding the true topic until much later in the conversation, after the other person perceives the confrontation passing.  It catches the other person somewhat flat footed, the responses prepared to block the expected confrontation are forgotten and joint work on solutions begins.  Never attack an entrenched position: arguing with people generally just doesn't help.  Talking about their kids, their dogs, hobbies, anything really  draws them outside their entrenched area and leaves them open to the strikes of reason and logic to build solutions.

The Wheel Of Time - Interlude II [#100Days, Day 73]

    Two books complete.  I've always held the next in the series, The Dragon Reborn, as a favorite.  It has a good balance to it.  Part of it is the familiarity with the characters, and their abilities.  Through the first two, Rand and Perrin are pushing hard to get away from integral aspects of themselves.  At the end of The Great Hunt, both have begun the process of accepting who they are and what they can do; allowing a maturation that's needed.  They're still, essentially, teenagers; carrying some of that lack of responsibility, self-possession, and self-awareness that frames the teenage years.  All the Emond's Fielders have grown up significantly over the first two books; mostly caused by external forces, but it lays the foundation for what they will become.

The Great Hunt - Chapters 48, 49 & 50 [#100Days, Day 72]

The Choice Between What Is Right And What Is Easy

    Rand wakes after being severely wounded in his battle in the skies over Falme.  Moiraine, who disappeared earlier in the book, finally returns; much to Rand's frustration.  She offers the following choice to Rand:

    "You must choose, Rand," Moiraine said.  "The world will be broken whether you break it or not.  Tarmon Gai'don will come, and that alone will tear the world apart.  Will you still try to hide from what you are, and leave the world to face the Last Battle undefended? Choose."

    They were all watching him, all waiting.  Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain.  He made his decision.

Moiraine and Rand, The Great Hunt, p. 575

    The Shienaran saying, death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain, eloquently describes the challenges of doing the right thing.  It's easy to walk away from a tough decision.  It's easy to sit back and wait, to make it someone else's problem.  In fact, it could be argued that it's to a person's benefit NOT to take the initiative, to sit and wait for some other, more driven person to pick up the burden and move it forward.  Organizations have a tendency to 'reward' those who take initiative with more work, to pick up the slack from those sitting idly by.  The challenge, then, is to get the entire organization to take the initiative - even on the smallest scale - to ingrain that habit.  Then you're unstoppable.

The Great Hunt - Chapter 47 [#100Days, Day 71]

Character Development: Mat

    Finally, after nearly 1100 pages of being a prankster who doesn't take anything seriously, we see a tremendous amount of development in Mat.  In the space of a sentence:

    "Mat, Verin must take you and that dagger to Tar Valon, so you can finally be free of it.  You don't have any time to waste."

    "Saving Egwene isn't wasting time!" But Mat's hand tightened on the dagger till it shook.

Rand and Mat, The Great Hunt, p. 556

    Mat's always seemed like the kind of guy to cut and run, saving his own skin, whatever the circumstance.  Now, even given a completely logical way out, he chooses to stay and work to rescue Egwene.  Previously, Mat's always been the first one to dash off.  Even accompanying Ingtar and Rand, he was focused on finding the dagger so he could get the link to it broken and be free.  He never gave any indication otherwise of future plans.  I must admit, I didn't think he had it in him to make the difficult, selfless choice. 

The Great Hunt - Chapter 46 [#100Days, Day 70]

The Hill To Die On

    "I will not go back," Egwene said grimly.  "I'll die first.  Let me show them what they've taught me." ... "I will not go back to that collar," Egwene said fiercely.  "I won't!"
Egwene, The Great Hunt, p. 549-550

    "I did give my word," Domon said.  He wrenched the axe from Cole's hand and threw it clattering to the deck.  "I did give my word."
Bayle Domon, The Great Hunt, p. 551

    Bornhald put Byar out of his mind.  He had done what he could, there.  He raised his voice.  "The legion will advance at a walk!"
    With a creak of saddles the long line of white-cloaked men moved slowly toward Falme.

Geofram Bornhald, The Great Hunt, p. 551

    "It seemed the only way.  We would be destroyed for nothing, defending people who do not even know, or care.  It seemed logical.  Why should we be destroyed for them, when we could make our own peace?  Better the Shadow, I thought, than useless oblivion, like Carallain, or Hardan, or ..  It seemed so logical, then." ... "No man can walk so long in the Shadow that he cannot come again to the Light.  That is what they say." ... "You were ready to give it up to save a friend.  Think not of glory." ... After a time, Ingtar spoke again, firmly.  "There has to be a price, Rand.  There is always a price.  Perhaps I can pay it here." ... "It is every man's right, Rand, to choose when to Sheathe the Sword.  Even one like me."
Ingtar of House Shinowa, The Great Hunt, p. 552-553

    Shortly after her rescue, Egwene very nearly gets herself killed in her brash assault on Seanchan forces.  Domon can see the results of her fight from the harbor, continuing to wait even though his crew is rapidly losing their nerves.  Bornhald, no longer expecting to survive the events at Falme, order his legion to advance into the city.  And Ingtar, he bares his soul to Rand as he readies to hold rearguard - to the death.  All four show courage in the face of overwhelming odds. 

    To voice dissent, often times, is to know loneliness.  Organizations are not necessarily inviting of criticisms to plans; despite processes in place to welcome that very thing.  However, part of being a leader is standing firm and stating "No!" when warranted - especially when safety of personnel is at stake.  

"It's easy to stand with the crowd.  It takes courage to stand alone."
Mahatma Ghandi


The Great Hunt - Chapter 45 [#100Days, Day 69]

I Don't Always Plan, But When I Do, I Keep It Simple

    Events are rapidly drawing together.  Nynaeve, Min and Elayne subdue a suldam and, in a quick audible on the fly, leash her instead of one of them.  All the while, Bayle Domon sits onboard the Spray waiting for the women to return.  At the same time, Ingtar, Hurin, Rand, Mat and Perrin arrive in Falme, anxious to find the Horn.  They find it in the possession of Seanchan High Lord Turak.  Rand finds himself face to face with Turak, a true blademaster, in a duel for the Horn.

    The three strands in this chapter wrap around the concept of adaptability.  Their plans are somewhat vague to start with - really giving general objectives only: get the Horn, rescue Egwene, stay in port until the passengers board - keeping the details simple.  Nynaeve's plan is probably the most fleshed out, but she still left herself options.  She had a backup plan in case things went awry (albeit it's of the "you'll never take me alive" flavor in order to buy Elayne and Min's escape).  Captain Domon also had a backup ready - hold fast until Seanchan soldiers show up.  Rand and Ingtar use Mat and Hurin to locate the dagger and Fain's trail, respectively.  

    By keeping the plan loose and details simple, the three teams are able to capitalize on options as they're presented.  Instead of using Elayne as a damane, Nynaeve chooses to collar the suldam Seta, finding that it's an even more effective wrinkle to the plan than the original ideas.  Captain Domon has Spray poised to leave regardless of who comes; Seanchan soldiers or the four women.  Fain's trail saturates the town, throwing Hurin in circles; but Mat comes through in locating the dagger and, by extension, the Horn.  Had the leaders of the teams been too rigid in their planning and execution, opportunities would have been passed over.  Keeping options open is extremely valuable.

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]

Amnesia

    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]

Miscommunication

    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.