Recently I ventured West from my North Carolina home to attend a leadership conference in Jackson, Wyoming. The trip provided me the opportunity to reconnect with some parts of the Lewis & Clark Trail, and with one of the keepers of the story, Joe Mussulman, who was the guiding force behind the extraordinary website, Discovering Lewis & Clark, now under the stewardship of the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation.
If I had any doubts they were removed as I visited with Ms. Viola Anglin, the proprietor of the Tendoy Store, which is on the valley floor on Idaho side of the Lemhi Pass. Ms. Anglin told me that the US Forest Service had asked to look at her guest registry. They told her that on June 20 of this year, visitors to her store, and presumably to the Lemhi Pass, came from all fifty states. So, I'd say the story has legs. It was just the encouragement I needed to return to the Trail and the Journey of Discovery.
Now that it is 2012, and not 2006, when I last posted on this blog, much has changed in the contemporary context for understanding this story. If we look back at the past six years in the US and World, you'll see a time of transition.
It is a time of global economic and political upheaval. A global recession is stymieing governments world-wide. Global terrorism has not been abated by two extended wars. And increasingly, in my experience, people are more risk averse and skittish about any sort of venture into the unknown. In other words, we are living in a time of unprecedented change.
What is coming next? I don't think anyone can, with any confidence, say with any certainty. The future is unknown. The question that faces us, as it did Lewis & Clark, how do we proceed forward into a unknown future along a path that seems more and more dangerous and risky?
A dozen years ago when I came across an audio recording of Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, I was captivated by how he integrated his love of American history with the raising of his family. I found in this story of exploration a kernal of insight about the American personality that resonated deeply with me. That insight was the quest for knowledge, for discovery, for venturing into the unknown, or at least what is unknown to you. I found a theme that had been a core value of my own life since a young man. The value of testing one's limits to discover who you are, of turning towards the horizon, and venturing forth to see what one can find. I have lived this way to the degree that I've been able, and my life has been rich and rewarding as a result.
Like the Ambrose family, we took our children out on the Lewis & Clark Trail. To share the story as a family has been a bonding experience for us, and while my interest verges on the obsessive, we still share a joy at having traveled along the trail where Lewis & Clark walked, poled their boats, ate and slept.
When my interest in the story began, I saw two aspects of the story that were worth telling.
One was the leadership story of shared responsibility and collaboration.
As I read Ambrose's account of the story, my conclusion then, and remains still, is that the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery was the first 21st Century Leadership Team. I saw things then, in the story, that I found as fundamental values and practices for leadership teams today. The course of a dozen years has only increased my conviction of this.
The second aspect was the spirit of venturing into a world unknown for the purposes of discovery.
Having been an American Studies major in college, I was already familar with Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis. I've written about this at my Leading Questions leadership blog. The question he was addressing one hundred years after Lewis & Clark was whether the frontier was now closed. It is still a worth question for discussion.
In reflecting on this question a while back, I realized that the last national leader who had any sense of the frontier was President Kennedy fifty years ago when he issued the challenge to go to the moon within the decade. And which we did.
With this post, I'm returning to my exploration of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. My purpose is two fold.
First to describe the best I can the principles and practices of leadership that we can learn from them.
Second to explore the nature of exploration and the purposes and ethics of discovery as a focal point for people, families, organizations and communities.
I venture into this endeavor with two other purposes.
One is to recognize that what is unknown by one person or group or nation may well be a rich history of knowledge by another. So, to say that Lewis & Clark ventured into the unknown is not a judgment of the people and places along their path, but rather about their own lack of awareness.
Two is that the Lewis & Clark story influences our perception of other stories of discovery and exploration. Ultimately, there is a larger, longer thread of understanding of which Lewis & Clark is just one example. In other words, I'm interested in developing a fresh understanding of the frontier and our exploration of it.
A Starting Point
Over dinner, Joe Mussulman and I discussed many things. Almost in passing he suggested that I relook at President Thomas Jefferson's instructions to Meriwether Lewis. His letter describing the purpose of expedition is a window into the mind of Jefferson about the exploration of the frontier. This is where I'll begin rediscovering the Lewis & Clark Journey of Discovery for 21st Century Leaders.