Situational Leadership and the Plastic Lawnmower
In Jim Collins' book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't he talks about the importance of "getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats."
This is widely accepted and quoted by management gurus everywhere. However, if you have every had the pleasure of taking a real bus on a trip, you know all the people on the bus are not people you would choose to go on a long journey with in such close proximity but the reality is they bought a ticket just like you and you can't get them off the bus. This parallels the work environment.
Despite the wisdom of Jim Collins to get the wrong people off the bus, most of us leading teams have very limited authority and are forced to work with the wrong people and still get the job done. Sometimes managing the wrong people takes of most of your time.
Now, before we discuss the plastic lawnmower, lets acknowledge that it is also part of our role as a leader to develop/re-mediate/guide the wrong people to becoming the right people as we lead the team to success. As noble and beneficial as this is, time constraints, resources and personalities make this a challenge. Additionally, some of the wrong people are just the wrong people and a pain in the neck.
I recently had dinner with some former NASA colleagues and we were discussing what all former co-workers discuss... the weird, wacky and wonderful of how it used to be. This is when Loraine Tuttle mentioned her "Plastic Lawnmower Theory of Management." As she described it, I wondered if Paul Hersey, author of the book The Situational Leader and Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager the creators of Situational Leadership would embrace Loraine's Plastic Lawnmower Theory of Management.
The Plastic Lawnmower Theory of Management is a way to deal with a situation when you have the wrong person on the bus. If there is a member on your team who is a non-contributor for whatever reason and their personality/attitude/practices also impact you or other team members negatively, you give them the plastic lawnmower.
The plastic lawnmower involves giving them something to do that keeps them busy while you and the rest of the team get the real job done. Loraine cited an example where an individual on her team repeatedly kept bringing up reasons why the team couldn't complete its project. The reasons were all rooted in regulations, so this person was assigned to research all these regulations and provide a summary back to the team on how each regulation impacted them specifically. While this person was busy pushing the plastic lawnmower, the rest of the team went ahead and finished the project.
Hopefully you never have to give anyone the plastic lawnmower. Nevertheless, it is the leader's role to protect the team as a whole and accomplish the team's objective. Sometimes this means isolating an individual from the team and/or the work.
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