A block and tackle is a system of pulleys with a rope or cable threaded between them to lift heavy loads. This amplifies the force applied. With enough pulleys or by threading the rope through them a few times, you can pull on the rope and lift 3, 4, or more times the weight you’d be able to lift with just the rope alone or one pulley.
That same approach can apply to lifting our leadership skills. With the right system, we can pull up a set of skills that we couldn’t raise up by drawing directly on one. For example, improving communications skills could be pulled up directly by increasing presentation effectiveness, using more stories, or explaining the why of your proposal. Threading the communication rope through the pulleys of “competency companions” can build relationships, coach rather than direct, involve others, or increase trust levels. This can raise a heavier combined load of leadership clusters and boast all of them. And you’ll be seen as a better communicator.
Taking this approach amplified talent development professional, Andy Martin’s, personal development plan based on his 360 feedback. As with many participants first using a strength-based leadership development approach, Andy had a tough time getting his mind wrapped around the idea of focusing on developing a strength rather than fixing the weaker areas highlighted in his feedback. That’s a natural inclination. We’re hardwired to notice gaps, what’s wrong, and try to fix those. A lifetime of conditioning going back to our school days and continuing through performance appraisals train us to skip over positives and look more closely at negatives (for more see the research paper on Developing Strengths or Weaknesses: Overcoming the Lure of the Wrong Choice).
Andy decided to pull on the rope of a strength – Inspires and Motivates Others – to lift up a cluster of competency companions. After 12 to 14 months of working on his personal development plan, Andy was reassessed by his manager, peers, direct reports, and others in a follow up 360 assessment. He was delighted to see that Inspires and Motivates Others had risen significantly to the 90th percentile along with four other competencies. “I was blown away to see such a dramatic improvement from a laser focus on one item,” Andy reports. Click here to watch his three minute video interview.
Using a block and tackle system for cranes to lift heavy weights go back to Heron of Alexandria in the first century. They’ve been heavily used (pun intended!) ever since. Similar approaches to building strengths are more recent. We need to overcome centuries of conditioning to pull directly on weaknesses rather than leveraging our strengths. It’s proving to be the best way to tackle leadership development.