3D Leadership Lessons Learned in the Building of the Bell Rock Light House

They doubted it could ever be built. But he built it and it still stands today. There are important lessons to learn in that story.

If you are like me, you love learning from the ones who did great things.  Maybe that is why I like reading nonfiction, especially biographies and autobiographies.  It is there that I find lessons learned from those willing to venture into the seemingly impossible challenges. In this blog post and following, I will be sharing the stories I have found most compelling and the 3D leadership lessons we can learn.  In these historic feats we find principles and processes to disrupt our worlds, doing what our critics claim is impossible.  .


The Challenge

By 1800, sailors feared the North Sea, knowing the wicked storms regularly chased, threatened and eventually sunk many ships. One particular storm tore ships from their moorings and sunk 70. Anyone traveling that trade route knew their only hope was to seek refuge in “The Firth of Forth” on the east side of Scotland. Unfortunately, hidden just under the water was a deadly outcropping. A safe haven became a water grave. If only there was a lighthouse to warn the sailors and guide them to safety.

But building a lighthouse there offered a particular challenge, leading many to say it was impossible. The rock was underwater most months of the year and even then only for a few hours a day. Even worse, no known construction could endure the brutal beating of the waves.

Robert Stevenson, grandfather of the poet, found a way, but it wasn’t easy.

Lesson #1: It all starts with Your Dream and Vision.

He had a dream that would make a difference. With the increasing shipping trade of flax, hemp and textile goods, more and more ships were sinking.

Lesson #2: Doing the Impossible requires Innovation.

He found a design that would stand up to the fierce storms. That meant he could not simply copy what had been previously used but failed. He had to be innovative. He welcomed the challenge in part because he was a student of lighthouse construction and found a design he believed would be successful.

Lesson #3: Timing is Critical.  Be Ready.  Be Patient.

He worked but had to wait until there was an Urgent Need. Stevenson prepared himself, getting more education and prepared the proposal but did not get sufficient support for the project until politicians sensed a ground swell of popular support. That appeared when the warship HMS York crashed, losing 491 lives.  Persuading organizations to approve of a plan and then fund it is often the initial and most formidable challenge.

Lesson #4: Be Ready and Willing to Compete until you Win.

He had to be willing to compete. Others also wanted an opportunity so he had to win the contract with an innovative design.

Lesson #5: Attract and Retain a Team that is Willing to Embrace the Vision and Do the Impossible.

He had to build a special team. That meant recruiting men who were willing to leave their homes for months at a time, sleep on a boat, and work only a few hours a day, in often harsh conditions. In addition, he had to reassemble and replenish that team every year for three years to complete the job. Along the way, the men he hired came to have the same passion and pride for building the lighthouse that he did.

Lesson #6: Expect Harsh Conditions.

Doing the Impossible earns that label because it is not easy. The team faced harsh storms, consistent challenges and many setbacks. Yet they continued, in part, because they expected it would be difficult.

Lesson #7: Persevere through Unexpected Personal Loss.

No one would have expected Stevenson’s personal tragedy, losing 3 of his 5 children to a measles outbreak after the first season of work. It would have been easy to be distracted by his grief, despondent in their deaths but he kept going. In fact, some might say he found his healing in completing the project. In every challenge, disruptive leaders choose to persevere when others would quit.

3D Leadership Lesson #8: Appreciate your Legacy.

The Bell Rock Lighthouse is the longest standing lighthouse in the world but few envisioned its legacy when first proposed in 1803.  Robert Stevenson saw a seemingly impossible problem and decided something had to be done. What a legacy to leave for others to follow.  (Learn more about the Bell Rock Light House in Deborah Cadbury’s “Drams of Iron and Steel.” )

3D POWER Tip of the Day: The Impossible becomes Possible with the right Process.

(c) 2015 Murfield International, Inc.

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I am Dr. Loren Murfield and I work with aspiring and emerging leaders so they can leverage their power to do what followers and critics thought was impossible.   Are you tired of the same sights?  Are you ready to break through to a new vision?   Are you determined to leave your legacy?  If so, contact me today.

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