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How Leadership is Like Scalding Hot Water

Pouring hot water into a french press

Have you ever boiled water?  Sure you have.  It’s easy.  First, you get a saucepan (preferably a clean one).  Next, you turn on the water and fill the sauce pan about 3/4 of the way.  Now you turn a burner on your stovetop between medium and high heat.  Finally, you wait.  Easy.  But that’s not what this article is about.  It’s about the pouring of hot water, and how it’s related to being a great leader.

Boiling hot water is relatively easy and safe.  Just don’t throw any oil into it.  Seriously, don’t.  Pouring scolding hot water isn’t nearly as safe.  After all, it’s HOT water.  About 24,000 children in the US are treated in hospitals as a result of contact with hot water every year.  How does this happen?  There are a variety of ways, but let’s assume you’re making coffee in a French press.  (By the way, I’ve tried a few now and my favorite French press so far is on the right.)

Disclaimer:  Children probably shouldn’t be making coffee, nor should they be boiling water. 

Kona French PressOne of the final steps when making coffee using  a French press is to pour near-boiling water into the press itself to briefly steep the coffee.  (In case you’re interested, Alton Brown has a great video on how to do this the right way.)  If you have ever done this, you’ve probably noticed and dismissed a very interesting detail… if you’re not careful, you can pour the wrong way.  This may result in the hot water running down the edge of the saucepan, or spilling all over the place.  In either case, you’re not in a good position.

When you pour any water, but especially hot water, you need to be careful.  If you’re not committed enough to the poor, you end up with a potentially dangerous situation.  If you over commit, you just make a mess – and it could still potentially be dangerous. 

Leadership is not so different.  When you’re leading a team, you have to make decisions every day.  When you make these decisions, you can’t just be the boss (more on that in another article, another time).  Your team needs to buy into it.  If they’re not buying into it, then they’re not following you, they’re unmotivated, and they’re simply sitting around collecting a pay check.  You don’t want that.  You want people that perform every task with strong passion and commitment.  You want them to take pride enough to do their very best job to not let you down. 

Don’t Under Commit

When you under commit your decisions as a leader, you generally are leaving out or haven’t thought through details.  You give incomplete or no direction.  When this happens, your team almost instantly loses faith in you as a leader.  They think things like, “I could do that job.  I could do it way better then him.”  At best, they don’t think this and they sit around all day looking busy.  We’ve all seen that co-worker in the office consistently watching YouTube or never leaving Facebook.  They’re not being led, or they’re being led by a leader that is consistently under committing. 

Don’t Over Commit

Over committing is essentially getting far too close to the details, which is pretty much the polar opposite that we just described.  As a leader, you likely hired your team for really good reasons.  Out of that stack of resumes last year, that person was the best of the bunch.  Think about it – they are your star player.  Over committing is you stepping in and doing the grunt work, so to speak.  You make decisions on colors and placement of objects and so on.  This is what you hired and pay your team to do.  The moment you step in to do their work for them, you’re essentially telling them two things.  First, you don’t trust them.  Second, you don’t think that they are capable of doing a good job.  In either case, you have severely de-motivated your employees. 

Just Commit

When you pour just right, you aren’t making a mess of things and you aren’t creating any dangerous situations.  You are motivating and directing your team to greatness.  You don’t make the decisions for them or do their job.  You give direction and create a stable environment by providing a sense of security and trust.  This is done by not focusing on the details, but rather focusing on ensuring that your team has the tools, processes, and resources in place to empower them to greatness.  Anything else is actually causing more work for yourself.  No one likes more work.  Especially you.  This is your job as a leader – removing barriers and motivating the team.

After all, when is the last time you’ve seen the head coach of any sports team pull a player off of a field and do their job for them.  Yeah, that’s right. 

This article is cross-posted from my personal blog.

About the Author

Will StrohlFounder & CEO
Upendo Ventures
Overall, Will has nearly 20 years of experience helping website owners become more successful in all areas, including mentoring, website development, marketing, strategy, e-commerce, and more.

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