The Three-Legged Leader

shoes-2060519_640Some of my favorite memories from childhood revolve around Field Day. Each spring, as the weather began to warm up, officials at my elementary school would announce a date for the event and the entire student body would erupt in cheers. Field Day meant class was cancelled so that everyone could spend the day outside competing in a variety of games. There were individual events like the 50-yard dash and the egg race. I preferred the team competitions, though. I would scramble to find just the right partners in order to sign up for relays, the wheelbarrow race, and my favorite – the three-legged race.

The three-legged race always included a number of spectacular wipe outs. You’d think the most athletic kids would have a leg up in this event (pardon my pun), but they didn’t. Typically, it was their overconfidence that did them in. They would always get off to fast start, sneak a glance back at the rest of us, and then trip over their own feet. In an instant they went from front-runners to speed bumps.

Winning a three-legged race isn’t about physical prowess. It’s about strategy, teamwork, and leadership. Focusing on the same techniques can help us overcome stronger competitors in the world of business. You don’t have to be the biggest, the fastest, or the most experienced to be successful. You just need to be a three-legged leader.

Start by choosing the right partner and tying yourselves together tightly. In a three-legged race, you want someone who’s about the same height and weight as you so that your movements are coordinated. Too much of a mismatch and you’ll have a hard time finding a rhythm. Tie your legs together at the ankle and again just below the knee. Make sure your legs are together; avoid a loose connection because too much independent movement will quickly send you on different trajectories.

As a three-legged leader, choose teammates who share the same goals, instincts, and work ethic. Take time to get this right, and identify strategies that align people with in ways that complement each other. Teams win when teams work together.

Each three-legged race team needs a leader; someone who will dictate the strategy. Which leg do we start with – the tied one, or the free one? The leader is the one who monitors the competition and looks for obstacles. They may even call out a cadence to ensure both parties are operating at the same speed. The person who leads this particular race may be different than the leader for other competitions. It depends on who is best suited for the circumstance.

As a three-legged leader, identify the team member with the skills, experience, and drive necessary for a particular initiative. This means you will have to step back into a support role, following their lead in order to position the team for victory. The best leaders understand when it’s time to let someone else take point.

Communication plays a big part in a three-legged race. Any team-based effort does. If the pace is too fast or too slow for one, then both need to adjust. Encouragement is essential, as is a healthy dose of fun. No one likes being part of a team where the only communication is derision and blame.

Three-legged leaders understand that when a team is having fun, they’re more likely to succeed. They encourage team members to communicate freely. A healthy team involves plenty of debate, discovery, and evaluation. All of this is done within a culture that promotes team success above individual achievement. When the team wins, everyone wins.

Try a little three-legged leadership and see how far your team can go.