Moses’ leadership was bad. He promised his people a land of milk and honey. Instead, they got a terrible hike for forty years with no milk and no honey at the end. He would not be re-elected today as CEO (although, maybe, he could still get a few million when quitting).
The ‘journey’ and the ‘travelling’ are universal analogies. The hero’s journey is an archetype for mankind. Perhaps nobody has put it better than Joseph Campbell in his seminal ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’.
There is ‘journey leadership’ and ‘destination leadership’. ‘Destination leadership’ is OK if real and honest. But, promise too much honey and you may be in trouble. The problem with many ‘destinations’, is that they are like those holiday brochures that show a swimming pool in the compound, but not the building work next door and the mosquitos in the bathroom with no hot water.
The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about journeys. Odysseus lived on the Greek island of Ithaca and Homer wrote a whole epic about reaching this ‘promised land’, incidentally describing the island’s features in a way that don’t match the real island of Ithaca. But, who cares? The principle is the journey.
Constantine Cavafy’s poem ‘Ithaca’ is required reading in my Leadership Programme. It describes the exciting prospect of reaching Ithaca, but soon warns that you should pay attention to every bit of the journey: ‘A long one, full of adventure, (and) full of discovery’. And he recommends not to hurry the journey at all. ‘Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaca to make you rich’.
We have a boring term for this in management: ‘managing expectations’.
It warns you that Ithaca may even disappoint you, because after your ‘marvellous journey’, Ithaca may have ‘nothing left to give you’. ‘And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you will have understood by then what these Ithacas mean’.
Leadership may be, after all, the art of taking people on a journey to Ithaca, not the prescription of how to reach it.
It’s the journey, not the milk and honey.