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The Power of the Net

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

business woman on tight ropeOne of our Clients is Cirque du Soleil, and I’ve learned much while working with them. Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned didn’t happen in a workshop or a meeting. It came to me as I watched one of the shows. And now, every time I watch another show (or watch a show again) this lesson is front and center for me throughout.

Perhaps you have never been to a Cirque show (if not, please put it on your bucket list), but you’ve seen the results of this lesson. Because even if you haven’t been to one of their shows, you’ve been to a circus or watched a high wire or trapeze act on television. Regardless of where or when you saw the show, one thing you saw is a net.

There is an obvious reason why there is a net. It is an ethical and legal reason. OSHA wouldn’t allow the show to go on with people far in the air without a safety factor built in; they wouldn’t allow any circus to operate without a net. Certainly safety is reason enough for the net, yet if you think that is the only benefit of the net, you miss the point of this article — and you miss the big lesson I’ve learned.

There are at least three other reasons why the net is so important. And while you and your team likely don’t climb a ladder and walk on a wire high in the air, these same three lessons apply to you as well.

The Net Provides Confidence

Forget the circus for a minute. Imagine I laid a 20-foot long 2x6 board on the floor and asked you to walk across it. You would quickly step on it and walk the twenty feet with hardly a thought. Now let me put that same 20-foot long piece of lumber between two buildings 30 (or 100) feet in the air. Would you even consider stepping on the board that you strode confidently across moments before?

It’s not likely.

Somehow the confidence you had at ground level went away as I raised the board and raised the risk.

Perhaps even with a net you wouldn’t try it, and I understand that, but I also hope you get the point. If we want people to be more confident in their work, we need to make sure they know that an error won’t be career (or life) threatening. If you want people to work with greater confidence, you have to provide the safety that comes with knowing that if they take a misstep or make a mistake that they will be OK. Your net can be reassurance, a review before the product goes out or the trust that you place in them. Whatever it is, remember that the net you provide creates greater confidence for those you lead. And confidence is a precursor to higher performance.

The Net Increases Speed

Often times at work we want people to do the job well, be we also would prefer (everything else being equal) that people do their work faster. Speed is a component of success in most work. Let’s think about walking the wire (or your board) without a net. Wouldn’t you be going a whole lot slower? After all, if I’m not careful, bad things can happen …

Yes, we want quality, but “a snail’s pace” probably isn’t part of your definition of work success is it?

When we give people a safety net, they can work faster. They know that a bobble won’t be fatal.

Think about when you delegate a new task to someone. One of your concerns is that it will take them too long to do it (which is one reason we don’t delegate to start with). But if we give people the reassurance of the net, they will be able and willing to work a little faster, even on a new task.

The Net Increases Proficiency

A couple of years ago, Nik Wallenda walked a wire across part of the Grand Canyon. He crossed successfully and did so without a net. But all he did was walk. No net, no safety harness, and while his feat was amazing, it was slow and in the end, not all that exciting.

If the performers on a wire that you see in a show walked that slowly and only walked … it wouldn’t be all that entertaining. You see, with a net, performers can do more than walk. They walk and juggle, or they walk and jump, or they ride a bicycle on the wire (you get the idea). The net doesn’t just let people walk faster or with greater confidence, it lets them do better things. It allows them to try to improve, to do new tricks and stretch their skills. The net’s presence, even if it’s never used, allows people to do their best.

If you want to minimize the risk of handing off tasks or projects to people — if you want greater results and people who are willing to really try and learn new things, you need to give them a net. The net does provide safety, and that is important. But now you know that the net does much more than that.

Are you providing a net to those who work for you?

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