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7 Leadership Lessons from Moby Dick

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to strengthen your conviction Reading time: 2:46

      Call me Ishmael. Leaders echo that famous first line of Moby Dick.

     whale book cover After all, leaders are wanderers. Ishmael in old Hebrew means “wanderer.”

       Like Ishmael, the most effect leaders wander into the choppy seas of change in quest of their supreme challenges that look like so many white whales, often as elusive as that great white whale —Moby Dick himself.

      Indeed all leaders —all wanderers like Ishmael— are curious and “tormented with an everlasting itch to things remote” as author Herman Melville observes.

      Ishmael’s wanderings –focused on Moby Dick –give us an insight into Seven Leadership Lessons that we can apply in our businesses:

1. Interdependence

      Ishmael notes that even the mighty white whale is limited in its powers. It must surface to breathe air through its spout.Are you too busy to let your employees take a deep breath?

2. Purpose

   whale 3   Ishmael notes that when kings and queens are crowned, their heads are first anointed with oil, the sperm oil of whale’s oil. There is great purpose and dignity in his chosen profession. And how often have you articulated
the dignity and worth of  your business?

3. Learning

      Ishmael, the whaling sailor, notes the significance of learning a skill on the job. He says that a “whale-ship was my Yale College, my Harvard.” Are you and your employees learning every day on the job and applying that learning to tomorrow’s successes?

4. Focus

     Ishmael notes that a whale has its eyes on the sides of its head and sees two different or opposing images at the same time. Meanwhile man only focues on one thing at a time. And how broadly are you looking at your business opportunities?

white whale5. Teamwork

      Ishmael, the sailor, tethers a rope to the harpooner to prevent him from falling. The rope symbolizes the bond that leaders have with their followers, holding them so that they can perform at their best. Are you holding on to your people
so that they can do their jobs or are you holding them back from doing their jobs?

6. Value

     Ishmael notes that the sperm whale’s forehead is non-descript: no nose, mouth or eyes. But beneath this mass of blubber is a well of some 500 gallons of the whale’s most valued element— spermaceti oil. Do you have a hidden treasure chestin a non-descript employee just waiting to be discovered?

7. Opportunity

      Ishmael describes a fine perfume that is made from oil that collects only when a whale smells his worst. This oil collects in the bowels of a sick a dying whale. Yet it is used in the finest perfumes. Does your business stink? Could there be any perfume in there?

      As a leader, you identify with Ishmael’s passion to build relationships, to value others, to work together. At one point Ishmael even admonishes everyone to come together and help squeeze the crystallized sperm in a whale’s oil back into a liquid, saying: “Let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.”

       Ishmael—the wanderer—is the lone survivor primarily because of his leadership to adapt to the waves of change, to cope with the unfamiliar, to wrest meaning even from the perceived Mean.

      Consider the savage harpooner in the novel (Queequeg). He and Ishmael, a Christian, are the Odd Couple. Yet they become good friends because of —not in spite of —their differences. They wander into each others lives. And add wonder to each other — the ultimate leadership skill.

      Ishmael’s lesson in leadership is clear. Keep wandering. Keep wondering. Keep searching for the interdependence, purpose and learning; for the, focus teamwork, value and opportunity.

      And keep your sense of the wanderer, saying often to yourself: “Call me Ishmael.”

Today’s ImproveMINT

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