Spacing Your Leadership Bite

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here’s an idea to help you develop relationship in your project management. Reading time: 3:44

         The newly appointed CEO was shocked and perplexed when the Chairman of the company left an urgent message for the CEO to cut short his European business trip and return as soon as possible to the corporate headquarters in the United States.

wheelwright1         Was it an unwanted takeover bid? Or an explosion in a manufacturing plant ? A kidnapping of a board member?

        The new CEO wondered what the crisis was about as he hurriedly broke away from negotiations in acquiring a company that would shore up a key vulnerability in the company’s product line.

        “A party—a retirement party?” the new CEO repeated in a frustrating and exasperating tone. “You want me to leave millions of dollars on the table right now –that’s the potential we have in acquiring this company that we had already talked about with you and the Board–to fly back to corporate headquarters to attend a retirement party?

       The Chairman of the Board calmly and resolutely confirmed his direction. The new CEO did attend the retirement party –an annual event that celebrates, lauds and says a big Thank You to hundreds of employees with 25 years or more of service.

       That annual Retirement Party is so important that top management — including the Chairman and the CEO and each company president– are always there in person to press the flesh.

          The new CEO never understood the critical importance of top management attending the Retirement Party.  Oh, sure he had it on his calendar as optional. Two months later, the Chairman fired the new CEO because of their “philosophical differences” according the company’s news release.

wheelwright15          What happened? The new CEO thought he could make the company’s wheel spin more efficiently with another spoke in the wheel—an acquisition—rather than focusing on what really makes a wheel stronger: the space between those spokes.

          Leaders always lock in their place in THAT space—a space where relationships foster, a space where mutual caring and respect foment, and a space where the dignity and worth of each individual is celebrated. No matter who you are or what you did, from janitors to rank and file employees to managers etc.

         After all, this company’s top management had honed that space –with a high degree of respect for each individual employee–for more than 100 years in business and more than 45 years as the world’s leader in their industry.

       The Retirees Celebration shined the spotlight on that critical piece in the culture of the company,  lighting the way for all employees to feel appreciated especially on this day  when the top leaders in the company came to pay their respects and say thank you to its workforce.

      The top leaders came to focus on the relationship-oriented space between the operational spokes that turn the company’s wheels so profitably and productively.

         The space –a.k.a. the people issues between the bottom-line operational spokes of the company— is of paramount importance to the most effective leaders, as vital as the operational  spokes a.k.a–the acquisitions, the new product launches, the new accounts converted—that drive the business.

       The space between those spokes is  so important that wheelwrights call the hub of a wheel the “nave” as in navel.  From that space at the hub of a wheel, the spokes are anchored  much like the life-giving and nourishing umbilical cord of every human being. Without the hub, there can be no viable spokes, and of course no wheel.

        That focus on the hub, on the nave, on the people first is a concept in business at least 2,200 years old. Back in the day 200 years BC   when Chinese Emperor Liu Bang ruled, he had no pedigree as a leader. He was not noble by birth. He was not a military expert. He was not a SPOKESman.

         But he understood how to leverage the space between operational spokes in his empire. He understood that two sets of spokes of identical strength did not necessarily make wheels of identical strength.

       On the contrary, the strength was also affected by the spaces between the spokes.  Aligning the spaces between the spokes leveraged the true skill and art of the wheelwright to make the wheels turn efficiently and effectively.

       No wonder those who make and repair wheels==wheelwrights—concentrate on the space between the spokes as much as the spokes for the strength in the wheel. As philosopher Lao-Tse observed:

“Thirty spokes meet in the hub but the empty space between them is the essence of the wheel. Pots are formed from clay but the empty space within it is the essence of the pot. Walls with windows and doors form the house but the empty space within is the essence of the house. And so we see advantage is had from whatever is there but usefulness rises from whatever is not.”

          The spaces between the spokes reflect the resources that the leader lacks and provide the “automony for followers to grow into leaders themselves,” observes Keith Grint, in his book published by Oxford University Press on Leadership –A Very Short Introduction.

        “In short, the power of leaders is a consequence of the actions of followers rather than a cause of it,” adds Glint, a professor of public leadership at Warwick University in Coventry, England. “In effect, leadership is the property and the consequence of a community rather than of an individual.”

               Even a community of retired employees—a trans-Atlantic flight away —no matter how hot and juicy the business grill is at the time.

Today’s ImproveMINT

Leaders win the space race without a launching pad.

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