The Secret To Keeping Your Balance When Your Job Becomes A High-Wire Act

Do you feel like you are walking a tightrope at work? Maybe you have been promoted recently to a position of leadership and you are finding the politics even more complicated than you imagined. Or maybe you are finding it impossible to balance work and the rest of your life.  Or maybe you are managing a difficult client and trying to maintain the relationship while keeping your patience and integrity.

tightropewalker

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There is both art and science to walking a tightrope – funambulism ( funis = rope and ambulism = walking).  The art of funambulism is in the performance – splitting your attention between (a) keeping your audience and (b) keeping your balance. The science of funambulism is in lowering your center of gravity and minimizing the impact of rotational forces on your balance. What you need is a tightrope walker’s balance pole.

The workplace equivalent of a well-designed tightrope walker’s balance pole is a supportive team fully aligned to a common strategy. (We are assuming here that you have a team and work that requires a team, see previous post.) Have you ever seen one of those toy tightrope walkers that balances almost magically on a string? The magic is achieved (for both the toy and the real tightrope walker) by a flexible pole which is weighted at the ends. The pole reduces the impact of rotational forces and lowers the center of gravity of the funambulist. If the weights at the ends of the pole are below the level of the tightrope, the center of gravity of the walker can actually move below the level of the tightrope as well. At that point, standing on top of the tightrope essentially requires the same balance as hanging down from the rope by your hands.

The challenge is that you need the strength to carry the weighted pole across the tightrope.  It also helps to have a platform at the other end of the tightrope where you can rest. So, if you find yourself on a tightrope – an organizational funambulist – you need to be able, at least figuratively, to carry your strategy and your team along with you. Your team gives you the weight on your balance pole to lower your center of gravity. Their commitment to a common strategy gives you the confidence to deal with the forces that might otherwise make you lose your balance and fall off the tightrope.

Your team’s weight has to be optimally distributed to help you keep your balance. If you are looking for a  novel way to engage your team in a conversation about strategy, balance, and funambulism, you could buy or construct the pub puzzle that requires you to balance six nails on the head of one nail.  (There are versions with more nails but the puzzle is the same.) Let the team work on the puzzle and then discuss what they are learning and how it applies. The solution requires applying the same principles of lowering the center of gravity and “knitting the team together around a single strategy.”  You may not be able to get off the tightrope, but you can make it easier to keep your balance.

5 Responses to The Secret To Keeping Your Balance When Your Job Becomes A High-Wire Act

  1. jack wilson October 24, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Like the term “funambulism” and concept. A solid team and a good stategy may achieve balance and lower gravity point but what do you do when somebody outside the team and likely from above touches an arm of the balance pole? That is when you fall off.

    • Giles Hopkins October 24, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

      I guess even with a balance pole, it is good to have a safety net 🙂

  2. Elliot October 24, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this post Giles! My immediate reaction to the scenario you describe is that perhaps the leader is overloaded with an undue burden. If there’s a balancing act, then some (or all) of what the leader is doing might currently be allocated to activities that are unsustainable. It behooves the leader in this scenario to identify the source of that instability (unsustainable activities) and address promptly. This is the equivalent of lowering their center of gravity.

    The most immediate examples that I can think of are empowering one’s teams to be self-organizing, and delegating appropriately.

    To the the previous commenter’s argument, a strong leader strives to have their center of gravity be so low that they are impervious to outside forces. At some point the center of gravity is so low that the leader can leave the system and it will continue to produce just as it did prior to their departure. Creating such a system takes time, persistence, and a keen eye for cutting the unsustainable. It then positions that leader to be involved in what’s important for the long-term success and growth of the organization instead of being pulled into what’s immediately urgent.

    I didn’t intend to write this much, so I must have really enjoyed this topic!

    • Giles Hopkins October 24, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

      I am a fan of self-managing teams and emergent leadership where possible. Interestingly, the approach of using your team as a balancing pole applies to all the team members. As I was writing the post, I realized that fact and actually removed the language that would have limited the advice to leaders only. But I certainly agree with you that creating a sustainable system for a team is the way to go. That is difficult if any member takes more responsibility than she or he can carry. Thanks for contributing to the dialogue. I am glad the post triggered your ideas.

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