No MBA mumbo-jumbo, just stuff that's worked through 30 years of team-building in business and the military.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lesson of the Rope: Commitment Varies

There's an old joke from mountaineering school: The reason you rope a team together is so that when the leader gets there, the others are still following.

That joke has morphed for me into a powerful image of how most teams act. The leader has the vision; he can see the top of the mountain and imagine the view once he gets there. Some team members can also catch the vision, some never catch the vision but follow because they trust the leader, and some only follow because they're tied to the rest. Without the rope, they quit.

The leadership lesson here: Because people don't start on the same level of understanding and commitment, you're unlikely to develop everyone to the ideal that you have for your team. In fact, experience suggests you should only hope to move a team member up one category.

That means you can maybe get the quitter to trust that following you will bring good things, so you no longer have to track him down and get him back to work. The ones who just follow out of trust might begin to see some glimmer of the vision.

It's the ones who follow because they see the vision who have the best potential to be future leaders. They're the ones who can elevate your team and ease your workload.

That's why I invest most of my time with that group -- the return on investment is so much higher. Those are the people who can most easily and effectively be empowered.

The important thing is that the whole team follows for some reason other than the rope. Don't burden yourself with the requirement to get every single one to see the vision - some never will. For those folks, make sure that the trust is high enough that they'll follow you even when they don't completely get where you're going.

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