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I have a confession.

I am a groupie. I am sure many of you remember the 70’s and the “Dead Heads”, that group of hippies that followed the Grateful Dead all over the country. No, I haven’t been following my favorite rock band but I really AM a dead head because I’ve been following two dead guys all over the country for years!

Over those miles traveled, I have learned about history, our country, and, yes, I have learned about leadership. How these two men were able to lead their men (along with a woman, Sacagawea) across the un-explored continent and bring them home safely  can give us insights today into how to grow leaders, how to create effective teams, and how to create an environment of truth, transparency and candor. In my eBook, which you can download for free at the link at the end of this post, I explore ten traits of a leader using one of the greatest leadership books ever written, Lewis and Clark’s own journals.

A leader:

is Transparent

Many books today that discuss transparency focus on the outward flow of information to the marketplace. Some books will also encourage leaders to be open and honest with their employees. Still fewer books will talk about encouraging those employees to be open and honest with management. I believe leaders must first be transparent with themselves. They must look at themselves without any of the guises of self-deception. I believe the transparency that had been established between Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis laid a solid foundation for the planning of the Expedition. It was this foundation that led to William Clark being enlisted as co-captain with Lewis.

is Honest and Truthful

During the time that the captains were recruiting the members of the expedition they could of painted a rosy picture of a trip of adventure and romance across the country. Instead they were honest about the risks, the hardships, and the dangers of the journey. Today, whether we are recruiting new employees, or launching a new project, or discussing issues, we must be honest and truthful with our teams, our customers, and all of our stakeholders.

is Accountable

Accountability is one of the most difficult traits of a leader. For accountability to work, however, it must be combined with consequences. It is one thing to tell Joe he is accountable for a deliverable. It is quite another thing to hold him accountable by having consequences when he doesn’t deliver. Throughout their journals, especially in the early days of the expedition, there are many examples of the captains holding the men (and themselves) accountable. While I don’t suggest we use running the gauntlet, court martial, or even loss of whiskey privileges (seriously, I would never go to the extreme of denying someone their grog!) today, I do think we can learn lessons about laying down expectations and holding our teams accountable with fair and consistent consequences.

is Patient

With accountability and consequences, comes the fourth trait. A leader is also patient. The youngest member of the Corp was Private George Shannon. Shannon had a propensity for getting lost, not a good thing on a trek through the wilderness. Once while he was lost, he was able to feed himself by shooting a stick out of his rifle and killing a rabbit (resourceful might have to be added to this list). However, the captains were patient with Shannon and trained him. After the expedition, Shannon became a lawyer in Lexington Kentucky. I think, more than any other trait, we are called upon to be patient when others might “get lost” along the way. We train, we teach, we mentor, we do not adjust our expectations, or the consequences of accountability.

Seeks Input

Decision Point is one of my favorite spots along the 8,000 mile Lewis and Clark Trail. It is there, at the confluence of two rivers, the captains halted the expedition to explore both channels to ensure they selected the right channel before proceeding on. They examined all the evidence and made their decision. How many of us have experienced managers that make decisions without gathering all the facts or seeking input from those around them? It can be devastating to morale and team energy, in the best case. Great leaders use the knowledge and expertise of those around them to make their decisions. They also take the time to explain their decisions. Why can be just as important as what.

is Committed

To be successful leaders must be committed to the mission. Our response to challenges will serve as positive and negative examples to those around us. If we explode in anger or frustration, or if we give up completely our teams will lose confidence in us and they too will give up. The journey of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery has countless examples of being committed to the mission. In fact, they used the phrase “we proceeded on” so many times in their journals I am unable to count them.

has Integrity and Character

Admits Mistakes

One story in the journals provides us with two lessons in leadership. Our captains were not perfect. While faced with the long trip back to St. Louis, the Corps needed canoes. Unable to barter for one, Lewis ordered some of the men to steal one. In my opinion and in reading between the lines of the journals, Lewis had to fall several notches in the eyes of his men. Not only did he order them to steal one, we have no record of Lewis ever admitting his lapse in judgement. It is interesting to note, he doesn’t even retell the story in his journal. Leaders must manage themselves with high integrity and solid character. A great leader will do this in their personal as well as professional lives (those photos on Facebook, may NOT be a good idea!). When we do stumble, or make a mistake, we have to own up to the mistake, take responsibility for the mistake and learn from the mistake.

is Flexible

Throughout the three and half year odyssey, the Corps only retreated one time. When faced with snow “deeper than the trees were tall” while crossing the mountains, despite being anxious to return home, the captains called a retreat. The Corps returned to the base of the pass and waited with the Nez Perce tribe for the snow to melt. They waited almost two months. This showed flexibility (and perhaps wisdom!). Strong leaders must know when to “proceed on” and when to retreat, regroup, re-evaluate and adjust the strategy.

Takes Risks

Leaders must not only be willing to take risks, but we have to create an environment in which our co-workers are willing to take risks. If our teams are afraid of harsh consequences or an explosive boss, we may be leaving significant discoveries on the table. The entire Lewis and Clark adventure was a lesson in risk taking. However, there are several examples, where because the captains knew and understood the mission, they made decisions to accept even more risk. One such time was on the return journey when they divided the Corps into four smaller parties to help accomplish the mission.

Upon their return, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery were celebrated all across our young nation. The knowledge of our country, the native peoples, the plants and animals was expanded dramatically almost over night. Not only were these sciences advanced, but, as I hope you have seen, so to was our knowledge of the traits of leadership.

Download Everything I Learned About Leadership

If you would like to read the entire eBook, you can download by clicking on the cover.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

I must apologize to all my faithful readers; I’ve been silent now for a couple of weeks. Frankly, I’ve been stunned into silence by something I read. The Missouri River is sinking. Yes, sinking. In some areas between Nebraska and St. Louis the river is now 12 feet lower than it was 50 years ago, relatively the same amount of water, but the bottom of the river as “sunk”.

What stunned me was this…scientist and engineers are trying to figure why. Really? The word EROSION comes to mind, but what do I know. The article went on to say that the engineers are trying to figure out what to do about it. Really? Another word comes to mind…NOTHING!

Now, I love all rivers, but I have a special affinity to the Missouri River. This River, by most accounts is the longest river in the United States. It begins in the mountains of Montana and carves its way for over 2600 miles to the Mississippi. It is UP this river that Lewis and Clark and their men (and one woman and an infant) rowed, poled, pushed, and pulled their boats in an attempt to discover a northwest passage over 200 years ago. It is UP this river, that I myself, once planned to retrace their steps (or strokes as the case may be) in a canoe. Operative word is PLANNED, until an acquaintance from Kansas City exclaimed, “You are going to do WHAT on the Missouri River? Have you SEEN the Missouri River?”

The Missouri has cut its path across the western United States since the last ice age. During those thousands of years its channel has “wandered” across the plains, especially south of the Dakotas and into Missouri. What I mean by wandered is that it continues to cut new paths through the sandy soil. Lewis and Clark campsites that were on the north side of the river 200 years ago, are now on the south. Sections of river they traveled are now oxbow lakes. During their trip up the river the described countless times when the banks were caving in around them as the river eroded the backs, giant trees crashing into the water. Islands on which they camped on the way up stream where GONE three years later when they returned. They had been eroded away by the powerful current.

Aerial photographs of the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi show the color of the Mississippi changing to a muddy brown from all of the sand and silt being carried by the “Big Muddy”.

So, what has changed in 200 years? We have constructed six dams, impounding 35 % of the river. This prevents the river from flowing freely as it once did. This has had huge impacts on the down stream portions of the river. In addition, we have channelized the river by dredging (especially in the 700 hundred miles between Rulo, Nebraska and St. Louis, Missouri. We have constructed wing dykes, which force the water to the center of the channel, and we have constructed levees to protect our cities.

In a real sense, we have shackled the river and no longer allow it to wander. We continue to use its sands as a free source of sand for concrete and other uses. In the year 2000 alone 7.4 million tons of sand was dredged from the river for commercial uses and development.

Now, a sinking river does create an incredible set of complex problems ( imagine a bridge pylon that was buried 16 feet into the river bottom and now is only buried 8 feet), but does anybody else out there see the correlation or is it just me. We have strangled the river, forced it into a channel, stolen its resources for concrete and yet, we are mystified as to why it is sinking?

Now, what do about it? Imagine, if you will, the discussion a couple of kazillion years ago as the Colorado River began to cut its way through the soft rock of the Arizona desert. “Gosh, do you think we should do something about it? Maybe if we divert some of the water, it won’t wash away the village. Maybe we could line the bottom of the river with those big hard rocks and it won’t wash them away. OrOR, MAYBE WE SHOULD JUST MOVE THE TEEPEE TO A SAFER LOCATION!”

So when ARE we going to learn that you really can’t mess with Mother Nature; you can’t REALLY control a river; you can’t really prevent a flood; when you build in a flood plain you are just asking to get wet? My vote is, move the bridges, don’t move the river!

Valley Forge, PA.-The site of George Washington’s famous winter at Valley Forge soon will be home to the nation’s newest power plant. Approval was granted today for the construction of a 250-Megawatt Coal-fired power plant adjacent to the Valley Forge National Park. While the main generating station will not be on park grounds, plans call for four 300+ foot wind turbines and a 400+ smokestack to be located on park property near General Washington’s winter command. Water for the plant will be obtained from the Schuylkill River. Project Manager Tom Jackson, a self-proclaimed revolutionary war buff, states, “I don’t believe the presence of these structures will detract from the historical significance of the park at all. In fact, the steam and exhaust from the smokestack may add to the experience as you envision the smoke from the campfires rising above…”


Ok, now that I have your attention, let me tell you the announcement above is not true. But didn’t it raise some concern? Weren’t you thinking, “How could they do that to such an historic site?” What if instead, I had chosen the Gettysburg Battlefields, or the site of Mount Rushmore, or anyone of our nation’s historic sites? Would that move you to stand up and say, “No!”? What if I told you it was happening in Montana?

 
Over 200 years ago, Captains Lewis and Clark and their team of 30+ men, Sacagawea and her baby were making their way up the Missouri River on their way to the Pacific Ocean. After rowing, poling, and pulling upstream for over 2,000 miles and being away from U.S. civilization for over 14 months they encountered the Great Falls of the Missouri. The falls, while beautiful, were not one cascade as they had understood, but five and were a formidable obstacle between them and the way west. What they thought would be a minor inconvenience of a portage, was in fact over 18 miles and delayed them almost a month while they moved their gear around the falls. Pushing, pulling, and sometimes crawling while they transported hundreds of pounds of provisions in the brutal heat, across punishing prickly pear cactus. It was an epic effort like few others in American history.

 
It is here, at the site of a National Historic Landmark designating the location where the men of the Expedition left the Missouri River and began their toil across the Montana plains, that SME Electric is actually building a 250 Megawatt Coal-fired power plant. The Highwood Generating Plan makes provisions for the wind turbines and smokestack described in my hypothetical story above: they are to be located on and adjacent to the Landmark. In one of the few places left on the 4000+ mile Lewis and Clark Trail that one can still stand and see pretty much what they saw 200 years ago there will now be an enormous power plant, towering wind turbines, smokestacks… and tons and tons of coal ash. This unique site will be lost for eternity.

 
Several organizations are working to halt construction. Some due to environmental concerns, some due to historical preservation concerns, while some say the area just simply does not need the power the plant will generate. Rather than replicating that information here, please take the time to review the links below (I urge you to review the Great Falls Tribune link, it contains some excellent pictures, charts and maps of the area designated for the plant, as well as links to up to the minute news).

 
Links:

Montana Environmental Information Center
Preservationnation.org
Montana Preservation Alliance
Great Falls Tribune
Citizens for Clean Energy

Construction has already begun, but it is not too late to stop the destruction of this piece of our national heritage. I implore you to write your congressmen, your senators and others asking them to step in and stop this project. In addition, please write to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, The National Park Service and the US Army Corp of Engineers.

Richard Opper, Director Montana Department of Environmental Quality
Karen Breslin, National Parks Service

US Army Corps of Engineers – Helena, MT – (406) 444-6670