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VIEWPOINT: Share the load

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review that described an experiment on people’s perceptions. A team from Rutgers University asked a group of people to guess the weight of a box of potatoes. When participants were told they would have to lift the box alone, they correctly guessed it weighed an average of 10,5 pounds. But when they were informed beforehand that another person would help them, they guessed the weight of the box to be 9,4 pounds.

It’s remarkable to think that when people knew they’d have a helping hand, their minds subconsciously lightened the load by a dramatic 10 per cent! This indicates how our perceptions are shaped not only by what we can do ourselves, but by what we can do with the help of others.

I believe that it is our job as leaders to be cognizant of this and to consciously and continually work to lighten the load for the people we lead. As C S Lewis once wrote, “What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing.” Leadership that distances itself from its people and from getting involved risks being cold, intimidating and eventually ineffective.

A powerful principle I’ve learnt over the years to lighten the load on my team is something I call the sponge principle, which I use to describe how leaders need to absorb the weight of pressure from a situation and squeeze out encouragement to the team. By absorbing pressure, we provide an environment for our teams to perform – with enough expectation to keep performance high, but not so much that the tasks seem overwhelming or undoable. We squeeze out support by complimenting people on their strengths, pushing them to excel in a positive manner, and always, always passing credit for their work on to them.

A second principle I’ve learnt is to never let your team take the fall for anything, unless the action is fraudulent. This has lessened the load on my team in an incredible way. Your team needs to know that as a leader, you have their back and you will never pass the blame onto them, but will protect and defend them. This may not always be easy, but you will be amazed and moved by what this can do for your team’s morale and enhancing work performance.

I urge you today to sit your teams down and explain that you are with them, carrying the responsibility of their work and backing them all the way. When show people you are there to help carry the load, it has a meaningful impact on building relationships of trust and cooperation – and the results will speak for themselves.


Author: Brett Tromp CA(SA) is CFO of Discovery Life