You know those restaurant tables that have unbalanced legs and rock back and forth, spilling your drinks? It’s one of my pet peeves. It never seems to matter how many folded napkins or sugar packets you use, the table never balances. The drinks continue to slosh around every time you rest an elbow or cut into your chicken. So you decide to be the hero and prevent a minor disaster for everyone at the table by holding down one corner. But that one moment you lift up your arm to grab another napkin is the same moment some puts pressure on the opposite side creating a minor flash flood of beverages.
That’s the scenario I had this morning during an informal business meeting. I tried to be the hero, holding down the corner to my left, but it didn’t help. Each slight change in pressure when we moved our arms while taking notes resulted in table-rocking—annoying both of us (and making some of my illegible handwriting more illegible). I kept up a valiant effort for 20 minutes into our meeting. Then I gave up.
I stopped pushing down on that corner of the table.
The rocking stopped!
The table ceased to pop up and down. My annoyance ceased, too.
The very thing I had been doing to solve the problem was actually the cause of the problem.
Leaders do this, too. Sometimes the pressure we apply to prevent or solve problems actually creates them.
One of the biggest challenges for leaders is to learn when to apply pressure, how to do it, and how much. There’s no easy strategy or one-size-fits-all solution for this. It’s all about experience.
How do you know if you might be applying pressure incorrectly?
Problems persist. Just like my failed attempt to stop the table from rocking, challenging employees to perform may actually encourage long-term persistence of problems.
Problems get worse. Or, the extra pressure may also make problems worse. Sometimes, though, problems do get worse before they get better. Again, experience is key.
Interpersonal conflicts arise. Often, misapplied pressure from a leader produces interpersonal conflicts among employees.
Look for these symptoms and consider whether you need to take pressure off that corner of the table. Perhaps you need to push somewhere else or let others at the table apply pressure on their corners.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.