In his book, Don’t Step On The Rope!, Walter Wright uses lessons from his mountain climbing experiences to share leadership principles. He uses the “rope” between climbers as a metaphor for the connection between leaders and followers: “The rope is the relationship between the leader and follower.”
In mountain climbing, the rope is critical. If it is too tight, one of the climbers is always pulling against the other—neither can move freely. So it needs to have some slack, but not too much slack. If there is too much slack, the following climber can step on the rope causing it to suddenly tighten and pull the lead climber off balance. Either of the climbers off balance is a danger to both since they are connected by the rope. But even worse, since climber’s boots have metal cleats, stepping on the rope can damage it. A frayed rope under tension can quickly unravel putting both climbers in peril.
The parallel to leadership is obvious. The relationship between leaders and followers must have some slack, but not so much that someone can step on the relationship and damage it. And also, the relationship can’t be so tightly held that no one can move freely. The leader and the follower share the responsibility for the condition of the rope—the connection between them. Whichever you are, do your part!
[Don’t Step On The Rope! is a creative and stimulating book that I highly recommend.]
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner