Martyrdom is Overrated

joe —  Wed 16-Dec-09 — Leave a comment
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“If you are one step ahead of the followers you are a leader. Ten steps ahead and you’re a martyr.” – John Maxwell

I’ve never been a big fan of martyrdom as it usually ended in death or at least very painful suffering. Very few of us as leaders wish to die for our teams yet I have often seen leaders do just that by not staying within a heartbeat’s reach of their followers.

sfk ride.jpgI spend a lot of time cycling around Atlanta, much of that in group rides of 10-40 people. Almost every week there is someone there for the first time, often never having traveled anywhere near the distance that was being attempted that day. The key to whether that person will make it and attempt the same again next week is almost exclusively dependent on the ride leader.

The most successful group rides in town all have ride leaders that know the proper leading distance. They know if they get out too far they will exhaust and confuse the team. If they go too slow they take away that great sense of accomplishment that comes from pushing your limits. So how do they do this? What is the magic distance to maintain? What is the correct pace?

It’s not measured in velocity or distance, but in heartbeats. Not literally, more emotionally; not your heartbeat, but theirs. You must be a few heartbeats in front of them so that they know that what you are asking is possible. This means above all else you must know their current heartbeat. With that information you can determine your heartbeat. Without it you are only guessing.

The heartbeat measurement is the most fundamental feedback mechanism a leader need employ. If you don’t have a system in place where that is fed to you on a regular basis, how do you know how far out front you are?

Today’s Question:
What are the feedback loops that you use with your teams?

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  • http://www.andrewfuqua.com Andrew Fuqua

    Are you talking about how hard you push the teams?

  • Joe

    Andrew, I’ve never been a fan of pushing teams as when that is necessary it usually a symptom of an organizational or motivational problem. I’m actually planning on putting up a column on exactly that in a few weeks.

    It’s more of a pull effect. In order to pull, much like a magnet, you have to have an attraction. That is usually a common goal that everyone believes in or understands to be its purpose. The end state or mission goal is often too far out to be of interest to most. There is a place just ahead of the group that a leader has cleared for his team
    that is of greatest interest to all involved. That’s the heartbeat distance I referred to in the post.

  • http://www.andrewfuqua.com Andrew Fuqua

    I once had a goal of increasing the amount of automated testing. I painted the vision of that and suggested using a code coverage tool to measure the current state/weaknesses. It was done quickly. A small heartbeat. Feedback came through the completion of the vision.

    I once had the vision of automated tests driving the UI. I explained the need for this in terms I believe they understood, but perhaps didn’t believe. I saw some progress, but due to a number of technical hurdles and something else(*), it didn’t get far enough for me to call it a success. *What was the something else? Perhaps I was two heartbeats ahead? I don’t think so. Perhaps there were conflicting priorities: Get the project done and get these tests done too. Nevertheless, I’d say lack of progress is the other feedback mechanism I use.

    A third, is blank stares. :-)