WBB's Thought Leadership

You cannot Push a Rope

November 5

There are many views on leadership and management and ways to ensure team success but there is one picture that has helped develop a model to ensure team growth and success.  It is the view that every team member is holding onto a tope and the leader is guiding the team on a journey up a hill towards a goal.  The rope is not tied to the individuals but must be held.

When looking at this picture there are some clear principles that come into view.

1) Leaders are hands on. In order to hold a rope you have to use your hands.  As you move you can feel the pull and slack in the team but to do so you have to be hands on.  Those on the team need to be hands on as well.

2) Leaders face the team.  When you are pulling someone up a hill you have to turn and face them. If the team is climbing well on their own then you can turn and continue to climb yourself.  If a leader feels no one pulling either they are all doing well or everyone has let go.

3) Leaders pull others towards a common goal. Leaders don’t push their team from behind.  You cannot push a rope.

4) Leaders can be pulled too. Those on the team can pull on a leader. If someone falls behind or if they choose to go a different direction it can pull down on a leader and the team. But leaders can also identify team strengths and in some case allow someone else on the team to take lead and pull the leader. Sometimes being pulled as a leader is necessary. Leaders need to know their team and be aware of strengths and weaknesses. As leaders feel a pull assess what is causing the pull and take appropriate action. When needed, be humble enough to allow themselves to be pulled or change course.

5) Anyone can let go. As demands of life or the project begin to mount anyone can let go. Teams have free will and can choose what they want to do. Those who trust a leader and the direction of the team are more likely to hang on.

6) You can only hold so many ropes. Life has competing demands and priorities. Everyone must choose what to focus on. Leaders can try to do too much too. Sometimes leaders have too many projects or they try to control too much of the team. Know your limitations and build a team structure that allows work to be shared and also ensure your own competing priorities are not detracting from your leadership. 

7) Leadership is personal. To pull with a rope you have to be close to your team.  If the team is separated and detached then it doesn’t work.

Obviously there are many other more scientific way to articulate leadership vs management and ways to build teams, but I thought this would help articulate one view to help leaders see things differently.

Written by: Joshua Atkinson




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