Plotting our leadership path

What are the similarities between how we lead and a windup toy?

Could it be that each step preparing the toy for travel offers us leadership insight?

Odd as it may sound, I was thinking about this the other day as I observed children play with their toys.


Compare the path a windup toy takes when released to a leg of our leadership  journey.

This might sound silly, but if you are the curious type, take 5 minutes and run this thought experiment.   Let me know what you learn.

Here is your assignment:  Think about a time you observed or played with a windup toy.   Pick it up, wind it, and let it go on a flat surface.  Imagine the path it takes.


The windup

Winding is the right amount of energy required to begin and sustain the move for period of time. Wind the toy too much and it breaks. Wind it too little and it doesn’t go very far.

Learning:  Pay close attention not to go beyond the toy’s set limit.  If we respect the limit we can wind it too its capacity and maximize the move.

People have capacity constraints; place too much stress on them and teams break.  

Let it go

Nothing happens until we let it go. The forward move allows advancement based upon the attributes of the toy, the tension left in the spring, and the environment.

Learning:  Point our people in the right direction for the best chance of success and see what they can accomplish.

The move

Relating the move to our leadership, we should look to enjoy our advancement towards a destination.   As we slow down, take a quick look back to see where we came from.

Learning:  Reflection brings understanding and empathy for others on the leadership journey.

The best leaders appreciate their journey and use lessons learned to help others along the way.

Take a deeper look:  Looking for the turn

Now replay the move, but see it from an aerial view.  From this vantage point we may being to observe subtle changes of direction. Pay attention.  Turns mean something.

Action:  When we see a deviation in our course we have a couple of options.  Make a decision to reset direction to the intended course or accept that the deviation should be maintained.

1) Stay on target

We can adjust our course to our original trajectory.  Do this when our original objective has not changed.   Resist the temptation to deviate or we may not achieve our objective.

2) Modify course

Alternatively, at some point we may discover that factors impede our original direction.  In leading others, arriving at our desired destination typically requires frequent resets.  Cause for adaptation include new objectives, environmental changes, or numerous other reasons.

So that was the experiment.  What’s next?


  • Think about where you are headed today; is there a tendency to turn in a particular direction? What is it?  What might it mean?
  • Help others recognize their “turn“. We have difficulties doing this ourselves so people that care can help us reach our destination.
  • Be a friend.

Shepherding: The art of becoming the leader others want to follow