When I worked at Outward Bound, when we went rock climbing, we belayed people with ropes to ensure their safety should they slip. As they climbed, they needed some slack in the rope system so they could maneuver. With too much slack, they risked injury if they fell. With too little slack, they were hampered in their movements with the rope holding them tight. We needed the Goldilocks approach: not too much, not too little.
In leadership, it’s the same game. If we have too little room to maneuver, we get exhausted. We get tunnel vision. We lose the ability to see a bigger picture. We chase the never ending task list.
If we have too much slack in the system, too much abundance, too many clients, too many opportunities, we become complacent. We start taking each other and our clients for granted.
Some leaders operate from a scarcity mentality and need a huge reserve – of people, money, time, resources – in order to feel safe. There’s never enough. Hoarding can result.
Others are more comfortable sailing close to the wind. They skate through month to month. They thrive on risk and meeting targets, just by the skin of their teeth. They are maverick leaders and can instill a general sense of panic and unease in an organisation.
Both hoarders and mavericks are difficult to work with and create large organisation blind spots.
How can we get it just right?
Somewhere in between is a happy balance.
The COVID experience has highlighted the need to have reserves and resources to change track.
A good rule of thumb, depending on our context, is enough resources to last six months to twelve months. This gives some room to turn the ship in a new direction if required.
From a leadership archetype point of view, we need both the Pioneer and the Guardian. We want to experiment for the future while protecting what we value. Reserves and slack in the system help us do just that, without risking complacency or panic.
How much reserves do you have? Do you have a tendency towards hoarding? Or towards the maverick? How can you cultivate a healthy balance of the Pioneer and the Guardian in your leadership? More tips on these archetypes are found in my latest book, People Stuff.