For several weeks now, I’ve been hinting at a surprising sixth lesson that ties all the other ones together. In fact, this sixth lesson, Cultivating the Courage to Connect, may be the most important lesson of all the others. In our social-media society where we signify our association with others by “connecting”, “friending” or “following” each other we acknowledge the power of connection… but are we connecting in superficial ways that limit the powers of connection?
Let’s explore why Cultivating the Courage to Connect struck me as a surprising lesson from the Lewis and Clark expedition!
After the Expedition
First, I was surprised to learn about Meriwether Lewis after the expedition. Lewis had accomplished something spectacular, but the expectations to perform did not suddenly end upon his triumphant return from the West in September of 1806. Lewis was shortly thereafter nominated by Jefferson to be Governor of Louisiana, a type of political and social leadership that was brand new for Lewis.
But Lewis still had obligations to fulfill from the expedition. By April of 1807, he had made arrangements with a Philadelphia printer to publish several volumes about the expedition and fully expected that the first volume would be published by the end of that same year. But at least 6 months after the expected release of the first volume, Jefferson wrote to Lewis in July of 1808. Here are a few excerpts from that letter:
First, there was a complaint…
“Since I parted with you in … Sept. last I have never had a line from you.”
…then an expression of trust about a matter Jefferson truly wanted Lewis’ advice about…
“if it can be effected in any other way & at any reasonable expence.”
…Finally an expression of worry…
“We have no tidings yet of the forwardness of your printer. I hope the first part will not be delayed much longer.”
Isolation in Challenges
Much has been written about what Lewis was occupied with during that time. Faced with health, social, and political challenges, Lewis seemed to be isolating himself. As we see in this letter from Jefferson, who was his biggest champion, Lewis had not been in contact for at least 10 months. Even in the age of pony express communication, we can tell that Jefferson expected and was hungry for more connection with his trusted friend!
For me, the lesson from this part of Lewis’ journey is this: Even though Lewis had triumphed in an unknown wilderness, he was struggling with new challenges that he had not faced before, but this time he did not have Clark and his Corps of Discovery to collaborate with, and he was not inclined to reach out. Perhaps he expected that as the greatest explorer of his time, all other challenges in life should be easy for him. However, I believe the outcome could have been much different for Lewis had he truly connected with others about his challenges. At the very least he might have gotten support to alleviate the self-destructive thoughts of fear, failure, and doubt which most likely plagued him. And at best, he might have discovered ways to work through and actually triumph over his challenges as he had done previously while connecting daily with his Corp of Discovery on the trek!
Connecting is Core
Let’s consider the way connecting with others has been a factor in all the other great leadership lessons we’ve discussed.
Start with Why
Jefferson was driving toward scientific knowledge and his vision for huge commercial impact, but this could not be accomplished alone. Jefferson would have never realized his vision had he not connected with Lewis and many others who helped to crystallize the What and the How of the expedition! The ultimate purpose of the Lewis and Clark expedition was formulated in connection with, and for the benefit of, other people.
Beware your Bias
At the root of much of the bias that impacted the expedition was a sort of prideful notion that “we already know”! “We know how to deal with grizzly bears”. “We know we’ll cross the Rockies in a week”. “We know that the Shoshone will trade with us for horses”. The remedy for bias almost always comes down to a certain humility … enabling us to connect with others to explore ideas and look for a perspective beyond our own.
See your Guides
It was not until the latter part of the return journey from the Pacific that Sacagawea was recognized by Lewis as a “guide”. Rather than second-guess why Lewis did not make a connection to Sacagawea earlier, the instructive point for us to understand is how important it is to seek and connect with guides that we may have never considered as guides before.
Prize the power of Good Books
We can see from the expedition journals that Lewis referenced books about botany, astronomy and other topics along his way. His connection to, and learning from leading scientists through those books enabled Lewis to open up a whole new world. Think of the easy access we have to an array of topics published as e-books, audiobooks, or in print! More than ever, we can connect with the leading thinkers of our day, take in a lifetime of their experience, and enhance our connections with others as we build upon what they have given to us.
Find your North Star
Lewis referenced the sun, moon, and stars to help him plot his course through uncharted territory. We can see a mathematical law in action here. To know with certainty where we stand, we must observe our relationship to two other points. In business to truly connect with my customer, I have to understand my relationship to at least two other groups, my paying customer and the team or partners I connect with to serve them.
Yes, the prime lesson of leadership from the Lewis and Clark Expedition is to Cultivate the Courage to Connect. When we find it in our hearts to connect with others, our Why will be more clear, we will be less prone to bias, we’ll be guided to success by those we had not seen as guides before, we’ll “stand on the shoulders of giants” as we read their books, and we’ll align with partners and colleagues to serve our customers in successful ways!
Keep Cultivating Connection
Our greatest triumph in life will not be measured in any single accomplishment. Like Lewis, we will probably find that even after a great triumph, new and unexpected challenges will continue to come at us! We may not be able to meet them with the same approach that worked for our prior success.
As we cultivate our courage to connect and collaborate and innovate our way through each new challenge, perhaps our connections will say of us something like Jefferson said of Meriwether Lewis!
He was a man …
“Of undaunted courage, possessing a firmness & perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction, careful as a father of those committed to his charge yet steady in the maintenance of order & discipline, …honest, of sound understanding and fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves, with all these qualifications as if selected and implanted by nature in one body, for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him.”
— Thomas Jefferson
If you enjoyed this article and others in the series, please Like and Share with your connections!
This concludes the series Undaunted Courage... Five Leadership Lessons from the Lewis and Clark Journey of Discovery, and a Surprising Sixth Lesson, that are as applicable for business leaders today as they were 200 years ago when they were first encountered and learned by the leaders of the Corps of Discovery. Here’s a recap of the five lessons:
And the surprising sixth that ties all the others together:
6. Cultivate the Courage to Connect!