“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”
These are the opening lines of the poem ‘The Second Coming’ by WB Yeats – bizarre that these lines are one of the very few things I remember from my university days and my English degree. WB Yeats was one of the modernist poets we studied but he has always been a favourite of mine, introduced to me by my Grandfather long before Uni. So I am not turning to literary critique as a side hustle 😊, but do I think the poem has relevance in a leadership context; one of the things I have observed more and more in organisations is the constant and growing pressure that teams are under to outperform year on year, month on month – whether driven by targets, competition or market conditions it is safe to say that the world of work doesn’t get any easier.
I liken the increasing pressure and ‘busy-ness’ to a wheel spinning, the greater the pressure the faster the wheel spins. The team are fastened on to the spokes of the wheel – the distance from the hub reflective of the levels of trust and the depth of relationships that exist across the team and with the leader. As the wheel starts to spin, centrifugal* force is exerted and anything at the centre gets flung to the outside of the wheel. So now we have a situation where the leader is further away from their team and potentially the team members are further away from each other – increasing the challenge of communication, engagement, alignment and focus. By that stage – is it too late? Certainly if we stick with Yeats’s falconry analogy then we can see the challenge, if the circle in which the falcon is flying is getting larger and larger and she can no longer hear the falconer, then how do they maintain control, how does the falconer direct her, recall her, focus her on the prey they are after?
Put simply they can’t. Likewise – if you are a leader of a team and you are spending all your time fighting the operational gravity associated with endless activity, feeling out of control and creating very little time to think, then you are in a similar situation. It is so hard to direct and encourage the team if you are caught in your own maelstrom of activity. I have no idea if this scenario feels familiar to you, but it is certainly one that I have seen playing out countless times in many functions and organisations across many industries.
So what sits at the heart of the solution, how can you put yourself in a position as a leader where the widening gyre is not out of control, you have some way of overcoming centrifugal force and maintaining a positive influence on your team? For me it comes down to one key and critical ingredient – trust! The falconer will have worked for months and months training the bird to trust them, feeding them, walking with them, spending huge amounts of time physically bonding and connecting to their bird. When they finally let them fly free, without a creance**, the only thing that holds that bird and brings her back is the trust and bond with the falconer. She might do ok in the wild, but she is better off being part of the team.
How much time do you spend on building trust and building relationships across the team, treating trust as a bank balance to be topped up at every available opportunity, safe in the knowledge that there will be more than enough times in a week that withdrawals will be made. Sorry – mixing my metaphors a bit but hopefully you get the gist. I guess the encouragement is about finding the time to invest in the things that are important, doing the leadership work not the operational work. Or thinking about leadership expert John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership model – focussing as much on Team and Individual as Task. If you had to do a litmus test of trust and alignment of your team to your leadership – what would they score? Is it good enough to fly without a creance in the eye of a storm? Or is there work to do?
*a force, arising from the body’s inertia, which appears to act on a body moving in a circular path and is directed away from the centre around which the body is moving.
**a long fine cord attached to a hawk’s leash to prevent escape during training.