True North

What do dog sledding, glacier trekking, and panning for gold have in common? Of course, they're all outdoor activities you can find in places like Alaska, as I recently did. But more important, they're all activities with soul. To experience them is to get back in touch with the more thoughtful parts of yourself. Here are three lessons about good management I took away from the huskies, the ice fields, and the smidgeon of gold I found in my pan.

Let 'em run

1. Sled dogs were born to run. You don't have to give them food or smack their behinds to get them to go as fast as they can; just keep pointing them in the right direction and hold on. That's what my coach told me, and he should know -- he's run in the Iditarod race with dogs like these for the last 11 years! His only job is to create the right conditions for the dogs to be the very best they can, and want to be. That's what good managers should be doing. Want employees to be motivated? Just create for them the proper environment, keep them out of trouble, and focus their energy on the tasks at hand. Then hold on for the ride of your life.

Sweat the small stuff

2. You often hear that we shouldn't sweat the small stuff. I disagree. When you're setting out to cross miles of ice that's hundreds of feet deep, the only reality you can get your head around is the glacier's small, flaking edge or the crevasses right in front of you. You never perceive the groans of the ice field in its imperceptible movement backwards and forwards. That's much too big. Literally, the only thing that counts is where you make your next footstep. It's the same with management. When you ask people what motivates them, it's invariably something small, simple, and right in front of you -- often just a "thank you" from their immediate boss.

Managers worry too much about vision statements, marketing strategies, and bonus structures. They forget that it is the small stuff about people that we should sweat.

Enjoy the process

3.The old adage, "Gold is where you find it" isn't necessarily true. Better to prospect where it's been found before than head into completely untested areas. The trick is to go where others have gone but come up with a better method of recovering the gold that's there. In business, it's very much the same. Rarely does anyone come up with a stunning nugget of an idea; most innovations are improvements on what others have been doing. The lesson? You needn't be a genius to succeed. Just do things a bit better than others, and don't give up. No matter how much or how little gold you find in this or that stream, the joy is in the panning.