Just enough rope...

A leadership lesson

“Give ‘em enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.”

Wow, sounds cruel, huh? Yeah, to me, too.

But there’s something in that saying that relates to a part of leadership that is often overlooked.

The part of training others to be leaders.

It’s like this…

When I was a First Class Petty Officer in our Navy squadron, I had about 8-9 years in at the time and had moved to Maintenance Control (that’s the office that oversees all the aircraft maintenance for a squadron, in our case, 9 P-3 Orion aircraft.)

It was a natural progression for enlisted leaders and there I was. We had a Maintenance Control Chief who was responsible to train us. He’d sit on a stool and watch us 3 young leaders do our thing.

Every so often, we’d turn and go “Hey, Chief, you think this is the best thing to do?” Now, he knew the best way, of course, but his responses were pure gold sometimes. He was from Minnesota and had that sharp upper Midwest scandinavian twang.

He’d reply “I dunno, maybe, maybe not. Throw that bait down the ice hole and see what jigs it.” I know right? WTF is he saying?

What he’d do, as he explained a few years later when I was a Chief alongside him and training my own new charges, was the theory of tying a rope around us and him. He’d let us walk and walk and walk right up to the point of stepping over the cliff’s edge to our demise (figuratively, of course).

You’re saying right now “Chief, what the hell are you babbling about?”

Both the leader and his trainees were invested in the process and the outcome. If we failed, we failed but he was responsible ultimately. But in order to train us and give us that experience, he had to let us lead, decide, and be accountable for our actions without derailing the plan or process. He had a virtual rope tied to us so we could get the sensation of impending doom, but at the last second, he could yank us back to safety, rescue us and show us where we had went wrong.

He made seasoned leaders out of us.

He gave us enough rope to hang ourselves, but would have never let us.

He invested in our immediate success and our future success as leaders.

That, is leading from the front.

Semper Fortis

Chief Chuck