An echelon is an arrangement or formation of individuals whereby each unit is somewhat to the left or right of the one in the rear like a series of steps, in V-formation. Birds, for example, use this linear flight formation during migration to conserve energy. Have you ever watched them closely? You may have noticed that the bird in front will fall back, allowing others to take over the lead position. The leader provides forward momentum for the entire flock. By taking advantage of the upwash vortex fields created by the wings of the birds in the front, the birds closer to the back can rest. Scientists are not completely sure how or why certain individuals are promoted to the front, but it is clear that there is communication transpiring. After a well-deserved rest and whetted appetite, when they once again take to the skies, the echelon becomes critical to a long, successful journey.
The echelon in business is often thought of as vertical. Current research reveals that there also exists horizontal echelons. The entrepreneur leads others through the day’s processes and procedures with the goal of getting in as many miles as possible before setting down for the night. The most adept of the group will move to the front. As a leader within an organization, it is critical for us as entrepreneurs to know when to take lead, and when to slide back and allow others to practice and shine. If we stay in the point position, we will tire. Not only will we begin to lose our focus and bearings, but we may grow bitter and resentful. This is one of the greatest trappings of entrepreneurship – the unwillingness to give up control, and the resentment of ‘having to’ do it all ourselves. If we stay at point in this condition, we will ultimately misguide the entire team. To be effective, we need to continually move about the echelon. Teach the unlearned, invest in those with potential, and give rest to those who carry the heaviest load. They will best serve you when allowed to move to the back for some much-needed rest and recovery. Believe it or not, their yielding position will further inspire and encourage the new ones trusted to step up and lead.
The dance of migratory birds is fascinating and filled with an abundance of analogies. But this one, I believe, is the most valuable: Leadership is action, not position. It is what we do with our leadership and how we do it that will define us as leaders. If you believe that you are the only one who can remain at point the entire journey, eventually you will not have a team to lead nor a destination to reach.