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Caught in an Eddy - Leading Your Team

I live in Montana near the Missouri River and love to float it!  There are sections that are better than others, depending on the flow, time of year, and traffic.  In the middle of my favorite route, rafters can expect to encounter “Eddy’s Corner”.  It is a fairly mild looking turn in the bend, however, looks can be deceiving.  This particular spot is also very deep, so much so that it is a popular jumping off spot from the adjacent rock formation.  If a raft enters too far into the corner, that is when you will fully understand why the name was adopted.    

An eddy is a circular current of water, and it can be very difficult to get out of the tornado-like whirl.  If you don’t want to just sit and rotate in one spot, the oars must be used to paddle out.  Here’s where the situation gets interesting.  At this point in the float trip, many of the people on the raft are so “relaxed” that they tend to just sit back and let others try to escape the grasp of the eddy and move on down the river as planned.  The problem with this is that sometimes it falls on the shoulders of the one and only responsible person onboard.  Can you just picture one person rowing?  That only makes the circular movement even more pronounced.  Also, having the rest of the people sitting idle only presents added weight to maneuver.  So, there you all sit and spin, going nowhere, getting sunburned, and the night sky sneaks in to remind you that you are running out of time to reach your destination.  You are at the mercy of the eddy until you are no longer amusing to him, and he decides to release you from his grasp. 

What does this have to do with leading your team?  If you are a leader that has tried moving projects forward and encountered roadblocks, you will likely get the picture.  Your team is on the raft with the goal of reaching the pull-out destination before sundown.  You reach the eddy that you and your team have failed to navigate around and are now stuck.  At first, you may be tempted to just take it upon yourself to fix the delay.  Afterall, you are the leader, and you practice leading by example.  Then you realize that you cannot do this alone and nobody else is stepping up to help on their own accord.  You are the leader, so you encourage, instruct, demand your team gets serious and help take action to be able to move forward.  Sometimes you need to dig deep into your tool belt to figure out what will motivate your team members to get moving again.  It could be reminders of consequences like the difficulties ahead with trying to complete the trip in the dark, or that you will miss the shuttle if you are late.  You might even resort to offering additional rewards if they work hard so that your mission is accomplished on time, like paying for dinner after you reach the shore.

What happens if some of your team gives up or just downright refuses to help you?  Eventually, firm consequences need to be administered, up to and including “throwing them overboard”.  But first, the urgency of the project goals must be met.  Once you realize that you and the few on the team that are cooperating can’t get out of the eddy on your own and recognizing that your mind has now started spinning as well, you may need to call out for help.  There may be another raft or bystander on the shore nearby that can assist in the escape.  They may be able to offer you helpful advice or they might be able pull you out altogether.  In the business setting, this could be another leader in your organization, a trusted mentor outside your business, or a consultant.  All resources can help guide you in what technical steps to take to move your project goal forward, how to motivate your team, and what consequential actions to take after successfully reaching your goal.

If you and your team are working on any projects and you notice the lack of forward movement, missed deadlines, smokescreens to avoid addressing the real issues, unmotivated or insubordinate team members, or repeat project failures, reach out for assistance.  Doing so will still demonstrate your willingness to lead by example and it will also show the team how important it is to dedicate everyone’s efforts to reaching project goals.  Contact me if I can be of assistance with HR Consulting and/or Training and Development Services for leadership teams and workforces.

Have a Blessed Day,

Deborah Jenkins

HR Solutions, LLC



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