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This column by Dr. Duncan was also published by Forbes where he is a regular contributor.

My travels have taken me to many interesting sites around the world: Michelangelo’s majestic David in Florence. The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Mount Rushmore. Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle. London’s Big Ben.

But I’m especially drawn to sites that, although beautiful in their own way, are more about function than aesthetics. I love lighthouses.

The first lighthouses were built centuries ago to guide mariners. Lighthouse construction boomed at the turn of the 18th century along with burgeoning levels of transatlantic commerce. Modern navigation technologies such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) have made lighthouses less of a factor in today’s sea travel, although hundreds are still in operation.

What will never go out of fashion are the three things a lighthouse provides to travelers: Light. Hope. Safety.

The lighthouse provides bright light. Travelers need to have an illuminated path. They need to see what’s ahead.

The lighthouse provides hope. Travelers need assurance that they’re on the right course and that the decisions they’re making are sound.

The lighthouse provides safety. Travelers want to have confidence that the course they’re on is safe, reliable, with no crashes ahead.

Are you a lighthouse leader? Do you provide light, hope, and safety to the people you lead?

For helpful introspection, here are some questions you may ask yourself.


  • When faced with a challenge in the workplace, do I honestly ask myself what I might be doing that could be contributing to the problem? Do I then own up to my mistake and correct it?
  • Do I help people embrace change because they see the light rather than because they feel the heat?
  • When championing a new approach or process, do I build a psychological case for change as well as a business case?
  • Do I help people “catch the vision” of our collective goals and objectives (the What), and do I emphasize the Why as much as the How?


  • Do I postpone judgment on things until I have sufficient data to proceed with justifiable confidence?
  • Am I careful to treat people respectfully, regardless of their position, title, or another identifier?
  • Do I ensure that all the messaging in the organization explicitly addresses the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) questions that most people ask?
  • When leading, teaching, and encouraging my people, do I always consider their individual frames of reference?


  • Do I identify important “undiscussables” (elephants in the room) and make it safe for people to discuss them openly?
  • While having confidence in my own positions, do I listen to contrary views in a welcoming, non-defensive manner?
  • Do I genuinely listen with the intent to learn and understand rather than to judge or to prepare my rebuttal?
  • Am I sometimes willing to abandon my idea in favor of someone else’s? Is that willingness crystal clear to my associates?

Oh, yes. There’s another characteristic of a lighthouse that’s worth considering. It stands tall and rock solid during even the worst of storms.

Are you a Lighthouse Leader?