Leadership—a daily juggling contest

Picture an expert juggler you may have seen at a convention, a circus, or a lounge performance.  Now picture yourself on stage.  In your role as the leader, hopefully not just a manager, you are a juggler.  Leadership is the juggling contest.  Each one of us can only keep a certain number of balls in the air at one time.  Think of yourself as the juggler— 3, 4, 5, or six balls in the air. Those balls represent projects.  Add a new project and make that ball a new color.  Which of the previous six are you going to drop or pass on to another juggler?  Maybe the other juggler isn’t as good as you are, maybe the person is a novice or maybe the person’s better. What will happen to that project you cared about?

We’re all jugglers in leadership, juggling projects, juggling people, juggling time.  How many of you would think of getting on stage in front of 10, 20, 100, or 200 people having never taken any training in juggling?  The reality is any juggler has to have training and put in hours of practice, practice, and more practice.

Are you a new leader or an experienced leader who has never had any training and is running the race so quickly that there’s absolutely no time for practice?  Talk to any performer and you’ll discover that practice is part of the daily routine. There is no such thing as perfect for the rest of the performing career. Just like there isn’t such a thing as, I know all there is to know about leadership.

So think about juggling as it relates to how you demonstrate your leadership and management skills.  One juggling routine is the coaching routine, one is the performance management routine, one is the budget routine, and one is the planning routine.  Visualize each one of those routines as the different colored ball that you’re going to juggle on a daily basis.

Some of the moves are the same in each performance but there are the unique sequences in each routine.  If you’ve never been shown the uniqueness, never been coached as to the steps involved, never been positively evaluated along the way, how are you going to progress to an expert juggler level?

Think about how you work with your staff, your supervisors, and your managers.  Do you say congratulations when they do a good job or do you wait for the annual review so you can tell them just once that they’re kind of okay? How many of your staff have you welcomed into the organization, shown them their new office, and then just toss them six balls and said have a good time?

If you want to be an effective leader you have to be an effective coach.  Start that new employee, or maybe the seasoned employee, with a new project by just tossing in only two balls until they get the rhythm of the sequence and the juggling is going just fine. 

Think about the rhythm of leadership.  Sit on a beach and watch the tide; it ebbs and flows with a rhythm.  The calm days are like your routine days, easy to take and swimming in the surf is a joy. Note: this little exercise is your excuse for taking a vacation and sitting on a beach, plus, it’s education so it’s tax deductible!

Now the storm rolls in and the waves crash on the shore.  It’s a good day to drown, if you’re not well equipped for survival.  A lifeguard or that leadership coach will be mandatory if you don’t have the right rhythm in your leadership role.  Think about the storm days as moving from a three ball juggling routine to a three-ball machete juggling routine.

So how prepared are you to be the leadership juggler?  To me the whole visualization of a leader as a juggler adds a totally new dimension to the leadership role.