Just A Million Strokes...

Ron Jones

I had spent some time in recent weeks trying to really come to terms with the difference between leadership and management. I know that there are plenty of theoretical and research-based differences about roles, personality types and a range of other key components. What I was looking for was what we as HR practitioners could do to tangibly promote leadership.

And then I attended a presentation by Roz Savage.

For those of you who don’t know, Roz was the first woman to row solo across the Pacific Ocean, having already conquered the Atlantic. In the next few days after her talk, she would set out to conquer the Indian Ocean.

During her presentation, she commented that the first leg of the Pacific was "just a million strokes." I don’t pretend to know anything about what it is like to embark on such a journey, but it gave me a jolt to think that most of us are overawed by such large numbers and the challenge that this presents.

There was also another realization that struck me: most of us are really good at giving up on something when we don’t like it and then moving onto something else.

But if you’re in the middle of the Pacific, and you’ve only done 350,000 strokes, you can’t give up! Where else would you go? Savage’s journey meant making a huge commitment—and having made the commitment, being prepared to see it through to the end.

Most of us in the workplace get stuck at some point. We give up on the task we are doing and move to something else; we go home and complain about the boss, the work, or something else— although we don’t often complain about ourselves!

A million is a huge number of strokes! Imagine the prospect of waking up each day and repeating the same action 10,000 times before you go to sleep again, only to wake up and do the same thing over, and over, and over.

Savage spoke about what inspired her to make the first solo journey. It was very much a personal exploration – something which took her completely out of the comfort zone of everything that she had done and what she was doing at the time.

It occurred to me that one difference between leadership and management is that management occurs within our comfort zone; true leadership takes us outside of that zone.

Think about the people who most inspire us as leaders. They inspire us because they take that extra step, do something which is counter-intuitive or really put their own interests on the line.

Most of us in HR roles like to play it safe. We rarely step outside of our own comfort zones, and many of us just strive to effectively maintain the status quo in our organizations. We are hardly ever presented with a mandate to take ourselves outside of our defined role, and yet this is precisely what we need to do. We need to challenge many of the assumptions within the organizations we work in. We should constantly be looking for the organizational challenges which not only build our own leadership capacity, but which also provide opportunities for others.

How many of us set out to do our ‘million stroke journey’: to challenge ourselves so completely that we forget what our comfort zone is?

I don’t know what my threshold is. I do know that every now and again, the challenges in the workplace can create ideal experiences to learn more about myself – and if I know that, then perhaps I can use Roz Savage’s example to be more effective as a leader to others.