Pulling All the Levers

A leader recently shared a frustration that in order to get her team to be engaged, she needed to “pull all the levers”. While continuing a home-remodeling project over the weekend, I reflected on that comment as I grabbed an even larger crowbar to loosen the well-nailed floorboards. I know from experience in remodeling--and helping leaders influence change--that the larger the lever, the greater movement you can achieve.

For a leader, what is the biggest lever they have in their toolbox?

From physics, the definition of a lever is a “mechanism that can be used to exert a large force over a small distance at one end by exerting a small force over a greater distance at the other end”.  

What does a leader have that takes little effort on their end, relative to the amount of movement they can achieve at the other end in their team members?

With a lever, the pivot point is called the fulcrum. The greater the distance between the effort and the fulcrum, (and the shorter the distance from the fulcrum to the object to be moved), the less energy that is required to get the maximum movement.  Assuming the distance between the employee and the fulcrum is constant, the longer the leader’s end of the lever, the more power they have to influence their team.

What tool gives the leader the greatest amount of distance from them to the pivot point?   

If we made a list of a leader’s “levers of influence”, we could evaluate their effectiveness at creating change by using this analogy. Micromanagement, for example, means the leader is right up in the employee’s business and therefore provides a very short working lever. In fact, it takes more effort to micromanage than the return in engagement that is achieved. Fear of loss of work is another relatively ineffective lever of influence. Promise of increased compensation (even if the leader doesn’t have that authority) is an often used, but not effective lever for sustained performance.

More effective levers in a leaders’ toolbox are to provide a personalized challenge, asking for input on organizational decisions, providing autonomy in decision making, and giving your support when things don’t go right. While these tools will “move” your team members, the amount of effort that is required by the leader is still pretty high relative to the one tool we have not mentioned.

The longest, most effective lever in your toolbox is your vision.

Your vision for the future that excites, connects to and is shared with each team member is the most effective tool in your toolbox.

Whether for the whole company or a team of two, as a leader you should be spending more time than anyone building, talking about, refining and aligning your vision.  The vision is the guide for team members to make independent decisions and vision is their purpose and motivation for making the required effort you are asking. The vision for the future is what you use when you need to ask for change. When a vision is known and clear and shared, it takes only a mere mention of that vision to engage the team members and keep moving forward.

Vision is by definition just beyond reach. Can you get a longer lever than that?

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