What’s your leadership style? Look at how you shovel snow!

Last night we had the first big snowfall of the year here in Naperville, IL. I always like to use this as an opportunity to provide some reminders about leadership.  Here is a repost with some previous thoughts on snow shoveling and leadership.


We had our first big snow today. As my dogs and I try to navigate around my subdivision, I’ve noticed four types of snow shoveling strategies. Interestingly, these strategies line up very well with four different types of leadership.

What snow?

The first type of house is the one with tire marks in the driveway but no clear attempt to shovel. These people are not changing their routine just because their environment changed. Some leaders operate the same way. They go on autopilot and don’t adjust their work, their strategy, or the way they deal with their people based on context. They just plow ahead hoping not to get stuck on the ice. When they do, they often disrupt those around them for a little push to get back on the road.

I can get out

The second type of house is the one that is shoveled just enough to get the car(s) out of the driveway. The walk is left undone as is any area that doesn’t affect the owner’s ability to get around. This is like the lone-ranger leader. These leaders focus all of their energy on optimizing their results – at best without helping others, at worst to the detriment of others. These leaders have a siloed view of their role and relationship to the rest of the organization. I’d argue, they aren’t really leaders at all.

I did my part

Then there’s the house with the fully shoveled driveway and thin path (usually one shovel width) along the sidewalk. These people know that they are supposed to be good neighbors. They don’t want to look selfish, so they do the minimum amount necessary to be part of the broader community. We’ve all seen their counterparts at work. They come to meetings, volunteer for the easy tasks and never seem to be around when the going gets tough. In helping those around them, they seem to be more focused on their own well-being (e.g., reputation, political influence, etc.) than in actually helping the organization succeed. In some ways, I prefer the “I can get out” leaders. At least they are honest about their motives.

I’ve got your back

The final house is the easiest to navigate. All driving and walking paths are completely clear. These homeowners are thinking more about just their needs. They are thinking about the kids who need to walk to school, the mail carrier, the neighborhood dog walkers, joggers, and anyone else who is trying to pass by. They realize that their house is part of a larger community and plays a role in that community whether they are directly involved or not. 

In organizations, these leaders are attentive to the big picture. They don’t just optimize their individual department or goals. They understand that other people inside and outside of the organization might rely on their departments. Most importantly, they are responsive to those needs. They make themselves easy to do business with. They ensure that they do not introduce burdensome processes or obstacles into other people’s work. Some even goes as far as to remove such obstacles. These leaders understand that part of their role (I’d argue most of their role) is to help the organization, its customers, and its partners succeed.

Winter has just begun. As the snow falls and the shovels come out, now is a good time to reflect on your leadership style. Use the extra time that you spend fully clearing your walk to think about how you can fully clear the path to success for anyone who works with you or your organization.

Brad Kolar is an executive consultant, speaker, and author with Avail Advisors. Avail helps leaders simplify their problems, decisions, data, and communication. Contact Brad at brad.kolar@availadvisors.com.

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