Tag Archives: Sydney Pollack

Leadership From 30,000 Feet; Leadership From Right In Front Of Your Face – Maybe We Need Both

(this is something of a personal reflection, leading up to a big-picture business issue).

One of my occasional reads is Oriah Mountain Dreamer.  Her book The Invitation hit me at the right time in the right way.  I’ve read more from her, and follow her writings…  I appreciate her.

In her most recent blog post, she describes how she is tackling a new challenge in this chapter of her life.  Actually, renewing an earlier practice, from an earlier chapter.  She wrote this:

This image has become a guiding one for moving forward in my life. I’ve stopped looking for The Ten Year Plan and started looking for and noticing the small round stones, beckoning markers that whisper, “This way. Over here.”

from The Electric Horseman

It reminded me of this scene from the Robert Redford/Jane Fonda 1979 movie, The Electric Horseman, directed by Sydney Pollack.  (I found a pdf of a draft of the script here).  Redford is stealing the thoroughbred horse Rising Star, setting him free in the wild, where “he belongs.”  Fonda plays the dogged reporter, getting her story.  She is slowly won over to the right-ness of his cause.  As she travels on foot to the secret canyon, he catches her writing this in her journal:

Seeing this country as if for the first time.  Not looking down from a jet 30 thousand feet above but from… — the low angle of a man who means to cross it on foot…  leading a thoroughbred stallion to a secret destination, to a private goal.

I have taken two trips recently.  The latest, to Orlando, I saw nothing.  I flew too far above the terrain to see much of anything, drove to a hotel, walked into a very nice conference center, but one that looked like so many others, and flew back.  I did not see Orlando.

The other trip was to Vail, Colorado.  I flew into Denver, and rented a car.  I drove, leisurely on purpose, and looked, and saw…  Then for lunch, we walked, slowly, leisurely, beside a stream and below the mountains, and then ate outdoors with all of it surrounding us.  It really was (dare I use such an old, simple word) awe-inspiring.

The closer you get, the more you look, the more you see


So what?  Well, in one sense, leadership requires the 30,000 foot view.  The trends, the big changes, the massive movements of people and ideas…  The big, big picture.

But, sometimes, leadership requires looking and seeing up close and in a very personal way.  Think of Luis Urzúa, shift foreman (read my blog post, here), and the close up view he took of the 32 men he led some 69 days, over 2000 feet below the surface.  His “big picture” was not so big at all.  It was a very specific picture:  “How do I lead this group of fragile and vulnerable and endangered men in the midst of this ghastly circumstance?”

I think we need both kinds of leaders.  Those who look from a great vantage point, seeing the possibilities.  But, others, who look up close.  Who see the individual needs, the small steps that can be taken.

Both leaders are important.  Both viewpoints are important.  But I think we can be a little more enamored with the 30,000 foot view.  And it is wrong to value one over the other.  The slow pace next to the streams might help us remember that we work with real, actual, individual people, with real dreams and aspirations.

So, to circle back to the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer: I’ve stopped looking for The Ten Year Plan and started looking for and noticing the small round stones, beckoning markers that whisper, “This way. Over here.”

Sydney Pollack on Leadership — It’s not like driving a car!

Sydney Pollack

Driving a car, flying an airplane – you can reduce those things to a series of maneuvers that are always executed in the same way.  But with something like leadership, just as with art, you reinvent the wheel every single time you apply the principle.
The late Academy Award winning Director Sydney Pollack, as quoted in On Becoming a Leader by Warrne Bennis, (as quoted in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time by Jack Covert and Todd Satersten)

Bob Morris gave me a copy of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, and I took a medium dive on my flight to Indianapolis last week.  A really good read!

It is their choice of the top books.  I might quibble a little, but not much.  I really liked that they included The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, one of my all time favorite books.

But this quote above by Pollack prompted this short blog post.  Pollack is right.  With leadership, you do reinvent the wheel every time…