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Compass, Kraken, Captain: A Leadership Tool


wooden helm

Compass, Kraken, Captain. Consider it the leadership version of High, Low, Hero. Whether you are breaking the ice with a new team, inspiring action with familiar faces, or taking a moment for personal reflection, may this be another tool in the toolbox. You can discuss the following prompts with a partner or group, or write down responses on your own:

  1. Compass: What is one thing you have learned that continually guides your leadership?

  2. Kraken: What is one unfortunate past experience that causes self-doubt? This could be a mistake you made, a conversation gone wrong, a decision you failed to make, a crippling fear, something you can’t let go––like the kraken, this demon emerges from the depths and pulls you under time and time again. Bonus: What do you need to do to slay this beast?

  3. Captain: Assume the role of captain. What is one thing you will do in the next two weeks? (Feel free to adjust this time as appropriate.) This is a good opportunity to share William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” known for its famous last stanza:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.


In the heat of the summer, and the precipitous rain, I haven’t done a whole lot of writing. Nonetheless, I have been learning, and––after experimenting on myself before forcing a group of innocent bystanders to try Compass, Kraken, Captain––I crystallized a few important takeaways to carry into the months ahead.

  1. A leader knows who works for whom. This is my compass. I’ve never loved the term “servant leader”––”leader” should suffice on its own––though I believe true leaders work for their people. Teachers work for their students. Parents work for their kids. Coaches work for their players. Politicians work for their constituents. I really can’t think of a time when it’s preferable for leaders to expect that people work for them. History has shown how that goes.

  2. My kraken is the fear that I am wasting my time. I recently found myself shopping for my next audiobook while listening to my current audiobook, so as to not waste a moment after the conclusion of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. When I registered that a major character had dramatically reappeared in the storyline after a five-year absence––to my delayed surprise––I became aware of my foolishness. When I realized that I already had three other books lined up, I was sure I had a problem. To slay this beast, I needed to be more mindful.

  3. Assuming the role of captain, I plan to lean into discomfort. I imagine standing at the spoked helm of a wooden ship and sailing into a storm, the rain whipping my face, the salt stinging my eyes, and the wind failing to stifle my laughter. A term I like even less than servant leadership is “killing time,” though I can’t argue with the accuracy of the expression. We kill our awareness of time and conscious experience, most often by drifting in the glowing bubbles of our screens. I will avoid searching for ways to spend my time and focus more on experiencing it.

Earth-shattering leadership insights? Eh. Maybe not. If nothing else, I am reminded of the power of reflection. I’ll take the leader who knows nothing and learns everything over the one who knows everything and learns nothing eight days a week. Learning is an endless process of reflection, choosing to undergo serious thought despite the temptation to float with ease like a balloon in the breeze. The leader does more than stumble upon learning. Leaders operate with a “head on a swivel.” Looking to lead is looking to learn.

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