As a boy growing up in Oklahoma, there wasn’t much I liked more than an Indians versus wagon train movie, especially if John Wayne was the one who led the charge to rescue the wagon train. (Of course, this means my favorite movies and TV shows are 50 or so years old and often in black and white.) When evening came after a long, hot, dry day on the trail, ever alert for hostiles, they would “circle the wagons” so they could sit around the campfires, eat a gourmet meal cooked by somebody named Sagebrush, and sing songs about the prairie while they gazed at the stars. Then it was off to bed for a night of sweet dreams about how wonderful California was going to be. Well…that’s what they did in the movies. The circled wagons were a respite from the constant danger—a place of safety that took the edge off of the fear that hovered over the trail every day.
It is a wise leader who knows when it is time to circle the wagons; there are a lot of reasons to circle up every now and then.
When you are tired and need rest is a good time to circle up. You have been hard at it for weeks on special projects, introducing new products or services, relocating, and so on. Your followers are exhausted and a day or two by the campfire will re-energize them for the rest of the journey.
Sometimes you have to stop to fix the wagon wheel that is busted and fill empty water barrels or put ointment on lame horses. You need to take some time to repair the damage from the hard journey so far before you set out again. Especially, look for damaged relationships.
If everyone is afraid because intense new competition, or new technology, or a slowing economy is threatening the future, you need to circle up to counter the fear. Your followers are looking for you to be calm, unafraid and determined to fight and win.
A good reason to circle the wagons is when it’s time to have a party: you have finished a long climb up a mountain and see the ocean for the first time, the new building is finished, or the numbers are in and it was a record breaking year. You may be ready to move on, but everyone else wants to look at the view and celebrate a bit.
Circling the wagons can take a lot of forms depending on the need and type of organization. As the leader, it’s up to you to know when and how to do it. If you aren’t sure, ask. Your people will love being part of the decision.
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© Copyright 2012 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner
Thanks for the reminder about taking time to celebrate the victoies. I usually am ready to move on but should take time to have some fun after the team gets a win.
I have always had to appoint someone to tell me when we need to party. You have a lot on your teams plate right now…maybe circle-up after Leadercast would be good.
I feel awkward or like I’m risking the entreprise taking breaks especially during a long hard slog during times like recently where a great outcome my be treading water or not going backward too fast (real estate and mortgage business). How do you develop a feel for refreshing yourself and your team during long, hard times like that? Thanks
It can be a bigger risk not taking a break when you or your team really needs one. “Feel” is a good word because that is certainly part of it – you see it in your co-workers and you feel it in your gut. Sometimes circle-the wagons can be a simple as taking everyone to lunch on Friday and giving them the afternoon off. You can always have a temp in to answer the phones and if the sky starts falling, they can reach you. Knowing you, you are more likely to circle the wagons for everyone else, not yourself. Big mistake. A rested. refreshed, re-energized Scott will get twice as much done next week and have fun doing it.