Leaders, Throw Your Lines in the Water

Posted 12.16.2011

Today, I want to share a quick story with you that is a different way to think about the challenges, conundrums and problems you bump up against as a leader. It comes from Tim Hurlebaus, who’s a vice president with CGI, a leading IT services provider in the U.S. and around the world. Tim has been with CGI in the U.S. and Europe in lots of different leadership roles in different parts of the business over the past twenty years.  He’s a problem solver and knows how to lead a team to accomplish things.

He shared some of his lessons learned yesterday as a guest speaker in a Next Level Leadership® session I was conducting for some of CGI’s high potential leaders.  One that stood out for me was an analogy he drew from his days as a competitive sailor racing boats in the Chesapeake Bay.

Tim told us that when you’re sailing the lines (that would be ropes for us landlubbers) of the boat can get tangled on the deck. Stopping to untangle the lines can take vital minutes that could be spent on more important tasks. The quickest way to deal with tangled lines, Tim told us, is to throw them into the water. Nine times out of ten, the forward momentum of the boat in combination with the resistance of the water will untangle the lines. When you pull them back in, the problem is solved.

Tim has found that the same approach often works with tangled up problems in business. In a complex, multi-variant project,  little knots of problems come up all the time. Tim has taught his teams to not get hung up on every problem that arises. Instead they throw the lines in the water and keep moving forward. They’re not ignoring problems, they’re just giving themselves time to do more and learn more so that they gather the information and insights needed to circle back and solve the problems when they’re easier to solve.

What’s your experience with leading teams in solving knotty problems? Do you tackle all of them head on? Do you defer for awhile by throwing the lines in the water? How do you sort out which approach to take in a given situation?