Are You the “Big Wheel”?

Murray Pratt Blog, Business Insights, Trucking Leave a Comment

In your business are you ‘The Big Wheel’?

Or, are you one of the 18 wheels that move the vehicle down the highway?

As a coach of a minor hockey team, I had to take a course called “Respect in Sport.” It is an online coaching course designed to equip adults with an understanding and appreciation of the significant role they play in coaching children and kids in minor sports.

It was very good, I felt that it could have easily been a Management 101 course.

There was one specific module on ‘coaching styles’ that really got me thinking…

‘Do I run a Player – Centered team?’ Or ‘Do I run a Coach- Centered team?’

Hmm.

Sometimes, the players will argue with me on something and they will say “isn’t this a democracy?” And I will respond that it’s more of “benevolent dictatorship.”

All kidding aside, this insight speaks to the transformation that I have gone through my career as a sales & marketing manager. It also a transformation in my coaching of minor hockey over the past 5 years. I found that as a leader of people, and of kids, that I had to ‘let go.’ I learned in my late 20’s, from my reading of Stephen Covey’s “The Seven habits of Highly Effective People,” that as I shrunk my ‘circle of control,’ my ‘circle of influence’ increased in scale. That the less I tried to exert my personal control over things, and the more I tried to work with and through people to accomplish objectives, my power actually increased.

When my teams play other hockey teams, I get a sense pretty quickly what the operating ethos is for the other team – whether the coach is making it about the kids on his team, or about himself and his need to win.

In the same way, whenever I have gone in to help a business as a consultant, or whenever I am dealing with a customer or a potential partner company, I get a feel fairly quickly for how the leader/owner operates based on the way the staff deals with me.

Do they have good energy? Do they smile? Do they convey a sense of personal ownership for the outputs of the business? Outputs of their work? Are they empowered?

Some cultures evolve based on personality – situations where the employees compete for the approval of the owner. (Not saying anything her about the Trump organization.) But this does work if the owner has boundless energy and inspires commitment and engagement – the ‘benevolent dictator’.  This is the ‘Big Wheel’ business and there are amazing companies that have been built through the force of just one person – Rupert Murdoch, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos. It is a very tenable and successful operating model in certain situations, but it’s not for everyone.

Other cultures develop into a more consensus style with the leader/owner being more hands-off and providing support, guidance and resources when needed.

Both are very tenable ways of running a business. These styles work in specific situations while in other situations it doesn’t.

Does anyone believe that Ernest Shackleton, or William Blye, would have saved the men in their rowboats if they had run a consensus- driven organization? Those were definitely times for ‘Big Wheel’ management- rationing of food and water is tough gig no doubt.

My bias is towards a ‘player-centered’ organization. I am glad I work for an owner who believes the same. A player -centered business doesn’t mean the inmates run the asylum however. Rather it means that everyone has a voice, has a unique contribution to make – everyone has a defined role AND responsibility for which they are accountable. Yes, one of those roles is that of a Leader or Manager of a department. But the less you have to use your structural power and the more you use your ‘technical capability’ and ‘interpersonal power’ – your respect for others as people – the more strength your business will have in the longer term.

The final issue to think about is this.

Sometimes a wheel comes lose and flies off the rig. Hopefully it’s not the big one – because everyone finds out they weren’t driving a rig at all, but were on a unicycle!

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