In dog sledding, the size of the sled makes a big difference. Sleds that are too light become unruly. They’re skittish and difficult to keep on the trail. If the dogs are too powerful, they swing the sled out too fast. If the Musher doesn’t provide enough counterweight, they spend all their time trying to brake and slow the sled down. The musher spends too much time trying to adjust for the energy and momentum that the dogs provide because they’re too strong for the sled.
You need a team that’s properly sized to the sled because the corollary to this is that if the sled is too heavy, it’s not really going anywhere either. You don’t want to mismatch the weight of the sled with the dogs. Further, along the lines of momentum, a sled that’s too heavy is very difficult to stop. If the Musher can’t brake the sled, the dogs get run over. Maybe you haven’t anticipated that there’s a snow dune or something that looks like a piece of good hard earth and it’s really just a snow shelf. You don’t want to go off on that thing because you’re just going to get buried!
It’s a pretty big mess to get the whole thing back on course. Because your sled’s heavy you’ve got to get your dogs unhooked, and then you’ve got to hook them all back up, sometimes in different configurations. You’ve got to spin that sled around, or turn it back over. Dogs don’t have the leverage a human being does, so you could reconfigure things; reconfigure the harness so that they could pull the sled back over on to its runners. How much time has been lost? The bottom line is that as a human being, you don’t want to be the guy that has to figure out how to get the sled back on the tracks by yourself – certainly not in the wilderness! You need the dogs to do it — and the dogs can get in trouble pretty fast without the Musher.
So the sled needs to be appropriately sized and weighted. If you have a really big sled, you better have extra dogs, and they better be big strong dogs. If you’ve got a really lightweight sled, you probably wouldn’t have big strong “go-get ’em” kinds of dogs because they’re just going to flip the sled. They’re going to want to go, go, go, and do the things that they’re capable of doing, and the sled’s not really capable of staying with them.
What is the sled?
The sled is the company itself: it’s the enterprise. The enterprise can be everything from supply chain; to the flow of goods and services; to the back office; to the sales organization and more. Everything about the enterprise is the sled. Much of what constitutes successful management is about truly synchronizing the management organization with the business. Where the Musher – the chief executive – ultimately participates is in that whole synchronization matching the team to the business.
Effective leadership is really about having the right team in place, and the team knowing what its job is about on an individual basis. Effective leadership is properly balancing the load of the business to the abilities of the team, and vice versa. Once the leader has done this, his or her next biggest challenge is ascertaining the course and helping the team to understand how to get there. We’ll discuss this in the next blog posting.