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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Looks like we’re on a road to nowhere, April 6, 2008, 2D.

As a teenager during the early days of the music video revolution, I remember trying to watch music videos whenever I could get the chance.  One of my favorite videos was “Road to Nowhere” by the Talking Heads.  Throughout the song, the lead singer is seen steadily running in place in a small, superimposed rectangle in the lower right corner of the screen while images of all types pass by in the background.  The lyrics tell about being on a road to nowhere—that line is repeated many times during the song.  Watching the singer continually running during the video is mesmerizing and somewhat depressing.  What a sad fate it would be to perpetually run nowhere.

Unfortunately, many organizations also seem to run on the road to nowhere.   Those without a clear purpose and goals, those without a vital and relevant mission, and those without people who aspire to accomplish new and interesting things are often heading nowhere.  As with a ship that is pushed along aimlessly by the tide and wind, a directionless organization might find that it will eventually move away from where it started.  Sometimes an aimless movement to “nowhere in particular” can result in good things for the organization.  However, when the tide and wind is used in conjunction with a desired destination, navigation, course corrections, and an able crew, ships can be quickly and safely maneuvered to their destinations.  Effective captains guide effective ships—they prepare their ships for the journey, they constantly monitor environmental conditions, they plan and follow navigable routes, and they assemble and work with able crews.

Effective organizations need effective leadership to guide them “somewhere.”  Leadership is about vision, direction, and movement.  Effective leaders provide followers with destinations to which they aspire and they work with their followers to reach them.  When the journey to the destination seems perilous, leaders provide their followers with confidence and assurance.  Effective leaders prepare their organizations for the journey and they constantly scan the environment for threats that might slow down or impede their journey and for opportunities that could move them along faster.  They chart courses of movement appropriate for the abilities and limits of their organizations and they make periodic adjustments to their planned routes.  Effective leaders also build effective work teams.  They inspire team members to work toward desirable destinations and they work with followers to reach their goals.

If your organization is one that aspires to “maintaining the status quo” or simply “going with the flow,” your organization may be on the road to nowhere—and that is not typically a place that organizations seek to go.  To go “somewhere” in a purposeful and coordinated manner, organizations need leaders and leadership throughout their ranks—from executive-level positions all the way down to first-level positions.  When destinations are reached, leaders guide their organizations to new and better destinations.  Vision, goals, direction, teamwork, and continuous change are the ingredients of leadership and the keys to keeping organizations off of the road to nowhere.    

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved