Living in Colorado gives me ample opportunities for great hiking. A common tradition my kids and I like to do when we are out hiking is to leave an Inukshuk cairn on the trail. The Inukshuk statue is a favorite metaphor of mine I like to use with teams as it has a wonderful tie in with Leadership.
Inukshuk, pronounced in-ook-shook, are stone monuments erected in the image of humans. One of their historic purposes was to communicate direction in the harsh and desolate Arctic. As such they were a tool for survival, and symbolic of the unselfish acts of a nomadic people – the Inuit – who built them as signposts to make the way easier and safer for those who followed. If a traveler could see the Inukshuk statue, they knew they were on the right path.
In leadership it is important that our people know that they are on the right path. This requires a good balance of providing direction as well as the appropriate amount of support necessary for each team member. The hands of many and the efforts of an entire group were required to build these massive stone sculptures. They are the result of a consensus of purpose, of focused action by a group united in its goal and labor. The Inukshuk are the product of cooperation, teaching us that as good as our individual efforts may be, together we can do even greater things.
Each stone is a separate entity. Each supports, and is supported by, the one above and the one below it. No one piece is any more or less important than another. Its strength lies in its unity. Its significance comes from its meaning as a whole. What is true about the Inukshuk is true about people. Each individual entity alone has significance. As part of a team each of us supports, and is supported by, another. We are united by our common goals, and together we are part of a greater whole.
The stones which make up the Inukshuk are secured through balance. They are chosen for how well they fit together. Looking at the structure it can be easily seen that the removal of even one stone will destroy the integrity of the whole. So, too, with a team. Each individual in a team is necessary for the realization of the team’s purpose. The removal of even one person will result in the weakening of the structure. What holds the team together is the balance – the complementary nature of the individual skills.
The Inukshuk, like Leadership, is a symbol of the human spirit. They recognize our ability to succeed with others, where we would fail alone. They remind us of our need to belong to something greater than ourselves. The Inukshuk reinforces our ability to commit to common goals and celebrates our working together. They continue to remind us of our inter-dependent responsibilities to invest our efforts today, to direct a better way for all of our tomorrows.