Maybe you can recall this cartoon with me? It was a Merrie Melodies cartoon from 1940 in which Willoughby, a dimwitted hound is tracking George the fox. Throughout the cartoon the hound is constantly asking, “Which way did he go? Which way did he go, George?”

Leaders are navigators. If you find your followers are consistently asking, “Which way did he go, George?” you might have unintentionally outsmarted or outran your followers. The navigator on a plane or aircraft is the person responsible for knowing the craft’s location at all times, being aware of navigational equipment, has the estimated time of arrival, and ensures hazards along the route are avoided.

As leaders, we are navigators to those who follow us. We will have a hard time staying the course with those who follow us if we are uncertain of where we are going, unclear about the potential dangers along the route, and have no path to destination. Our followers might sound like Willoughby the dimwitted hound, “Which way did he go?”

Within most organizations are a set of directional maps called Mission, Vision, Values. These “maps” help chart the course for those who follow the leadership in an organization. Having directional maps such as these give us great direction, but staying the charted course requires a leader—a navigator—who will keep the charted path and help others do the same.

Most individuals, though, lack these directional maps. We often think mission, vision, and values as something for organizations, but not individuals. Just as it is important for organizations to have a “map,” it is also important for individuals to have a “map.” What specifically is your mission, vision, and values? What are your short term and long term goals? Individuals who are unable to chart and lead their own lives will often experience difficulty in leading others.

Leaders are able to chart the course, create a strategy for achieving that course, and lead others to follow the charted course. Strategizing a plan as a navigator means taking the time to examine the route and know the conditions along the journey. Will there be turbulence along the way? Are there places of danger or obstacles that may attempt to block your route? Do you have the crew to sustain the journey, and are they aware of the route?

Depending on your leadership style, you may want to just jump on the first ship and head to your destination. Unfortunately, this method may lend itself to followers, like the dimwitted hound asking, “Which way did he go, George?” Ultimately, in many scenarios such as this, the leader also begins sinking because of improper preparation. The leader becomes a lone ranger and the ship gets lost at sea.

Here’s a recommended strategy for navigation:

1. Reflect on past successes. Identify obstacles overcome and use these to plan for future successes. Who were you being when you had these successes? What qualities did you have? What qualities did your followers have? How can you improve from your last journey?

2. Determine your goals. Understand your course, and know the “why” of what you are doing.

3. Update your crewmembers. Who are the key people involved in your journey? Do they also understand the course and the goals you are setting to accomplish? Are they able to communicate this to others also?

4. Survey the land. What are possible obstacles or hazards on the journey? How can you prepare for these?

5. Communicate necessary details effectively. Help your followers know when you are setting sail and how to prepare. What can they expect from you along the journey? Address any navigational concerns they might they have before you launch out.

6. Inspect what you expect. Take a regular review. Initially, this may need to happen daily. Examine your priorities along the journey, as they may adapt to your surroundings.

7. Balance faith with fact. Leaders can often see the big picture, but don’t forget about the details that keep the ship running smoothly. Neglecting even the small details can affect the results of the journey.

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