sled dog race with musher

Management and Alignment

Published On: February 14, 2023By Categories: Leadership, Musher Management

There is a difference between leading and managing. Musher Management™ espouses that “leading from the back of the sled” is the optimal behavioral strategy for a business leader. But how does the Musher metaphor inform us about managerial excellence?

I have said in a previous post that “if it’s not measured, it’s not managed”. You must know what you need to measure, and communicate why those measurements are critical both to you and your team’s success. But it is the alignment you derive from these measurements that is essential to managerial excellence.

When you get right down to it, the dog sledding rig is a pretty imprecise instrument of transport. Compared to an automobile or another type of mechanized transport, the dog sled and team are largely one big mess! The sled sits on runners, which are designed more to handle the snow and ice-packed terrain than they are to provide a straight line of operation. Further, the harnesses for the dogs are tight enough for power transfer, but loose enough not to impair the performance of the dogs. The spacing rigging, which separates the dogs and defines their team position, provides considerable freedom among the dogs, allowing them to individually achieve traction and power while also transferring energy to the sled in a fairly uniform, team-like fashion. Yet, even with all this “mess,” the dog sled has a history of moving lives and payloads across great, inhospitable distances with a fairly high rate of success.

Because of this “mess,” measurement is important, and alignment — and realignment — are critical. Rigging gets tangled. Sleds inevitably veer off course. Like the dog sledding team, people and organizations are likewise imprecise. Our enterprises are attempting to move forward, in some sort of synchronized way, but confusion and chaos are inevitable. As Mushers, knowing how often, and how much to adjust course, or when to outright stop the sled and re-work the harnesses or rigging, takes considerable skill. The team looks to you to provide this alignment.

Do you know what you need to manage to run your race? As important, do you know what you need to measure to understand how well you are running the race? Finally, are you paying close enough attention to make the necessary (re)alignments in a timely fashion?


A friend recently asked me to provide a reflection on my 2011’s postings. He called it the Musher Management™ “crib sheet,” so here goes:

  • Plan your course, and stick to it; however, course correct often. Use the wisdom of the team to know when and how much to deviate.
  • Don’t take risks without understanding the depth of the downside, but do learn from mistakes and disappointments.
  • Communicate clearly and execute with intention.
  • Confer credit and distribute praise generously.
  • Celebrate victories widely.

As we move out of the pandemic, and the recession hopefully begins to recede in the second half of 2023, we must be focused on profitable, sustainable growth. Growth means movement, with new complexities and challenges. Mushers must tend to their teams more than ever to ensure results. Inspired leadership, clarity of vision, and fearlessness will be the keys to the recovery — extending out from within our individual households, to our marketplaces, to our government, to society itself.

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