As I’ve posted before, I’m a big fan of IMD Professor George Kohlrieser‘s advocacy of secure base leadership. Quick summary: as children we gain confidence to take risks (like learning to walk) because we have secure bases (like Mom) to pick us up if we fail (like falling down). We carry this pattern with us into our adult lives and Dr. Kohlrieser’s contention is that leaders lead more effectively when they act as secure bases for others. In his book, Care to Dare, he argues that this supportive culture/environment is crucial for employees to have the confidence to stretch themselves and take risks – to play to win vs. playing not to lose.
This morning in the gym, I was struck by an extremely apt illustration of this exact principle in action. Usually I work out without a spotter (a workout worst practice, by the way) because my main training partner is more than a thousand miles away in Florida. Also I’m never sure exactly how effective skinny Rice kids would be at spotting! This morning, however, there was a big Rice rugby player in the gym who looked like he could handle my weight, so I asked him for a spot on bench press.
Anyone who knows my strength training philosophy knows that my metric of success is how much muscle fiber I am able to stimulate. When training without a spotter, I am not able to stimulate as much muscle fiber as possible because I lift conservatively, not wanting to fail and drop the bar on my chest! With this spotter behind me, I had the confidence to go all out this morning and I took my bench press routine to absolute, complete failure by working with more weight (strict form, of course) and doing more reps. When I finished a rep and was already tired, I still took the risk of doing another rep because I knew the spotter would save me if I failed. The result was that I was actually able to do several more reps! It was such a good workout that now I can barely move my arms.
Because of my spotter I was able to stretch myself and now my gains (with adequate recovery) will be much greater. This is exactly what secure base leadership is all about! I’m thrilled that Dr. Kohlrieser is bringing his top-ranked High Performance Leadership program (much of which centers on the secure base) to the US this year. I wonder how many of our country’s private and public leaders are playing not to lose instead of playing to win!