Snow-Plow Leadership

“Teamwork begins by building trust.  And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”  -Peter Lencioni

I am definitely what you would call a native Californian.  Born and bred as they say.  A childhood and teenage spent in the Bay Area portion of Northern California, just outside of San Francisco.  Evolving to a transition for my college and professional years landing me Southern California, just east of Los Angeles.

As a native Californian, for all intents and purposes, winter has never been a difficult or harsh reality I’ve had to face in my life.  Our winters are usually mild and meek experiences.  It is not surprising to take the kids trick-or-treating or to participate in a Thanksgiving Day football game in shorts and a t-shirt.  Nor is it unusual to hear a cacophony of whining voices anytime the temperature gauge dips into the low fifties.  You might say we are a “little” pampered in the weather department.

And for these reasons…things like “White Christmas”, “Snow Day”, “Snow Shovels”, “Snow Sleds”, “Snow Chains”, and even “Snow Plows” are much more synonymous with a holiday movie than any aspect of our daily life.  For many of us, the artificial snow falling on Main Street Disney during the holidays is as close as we get to the actual experience.

Which is not to say that California does not get its fair share of snow.  After landing my first teaching position, I relocated towards the Big Bear Lake area to allow more time and access to playing ice hockey.  It is here that I learned of the pleasures and of the difficulties associated with snow living.  And the importance of the almighty snow plow for keeping the roads open and maneuverable.

Looking back on those days…there are several leadership lessons that can be taken from that same snow plow and its integral necessity to living life in the snow…

A process that mirrors the very leadership we often experience and hold witness to in our own institutions and organizations…which we could aptly refer to as “Snow-Plow Leadership”.

Leaders understand the necessity to…

  • Clear A Path: The snow plow is necessary to clear the road of the obstacles and snow that keep people from moving forward towards their destination.  Much like a leader must clear the path of obstacles that hinder those they lead from doing their work effectively.  
  • (Drawback): In clearing the path, the snow plow builds up walls alongside the road that serve as obstacles for many as they try to move towards their destination.  Often requiring extra work and energy to dig through the wall built up by the plow.  In much the same way, leaders that are not reflective and observant of the path they create can create more obstacles and work.  Often depleting the energy of their people and teams.

Leaders understand the need for a…

  • Vision: Most snow plow vehicles sit the drivers on raised platforms to give them an enhanced view to the path and all that needs to be cleared.  Thus, providing the driver with a birds-eye view to any and all obstacles that might interfere in creating and clearing the path.
  • (Drawback): While the snow plow driver sits on a raised platform, it is also a solitary position.  The driver determines the path and all obstacles alone, often not realizing how the path they are clearing is affecting those at the ground level.  For many leaders, the path, the vision, is determined through a solitary process.  They see it as a an individual endeavor.  Providing a vision that is entirely theirs and theirs alone.  Lacking collaborative processes not only fails to create and build commitment, it leaves those it affects most out of the process.

Leaders understand the importance of…

  • Team/Collaborative Input: While many snow plow drivers may engage in radio banter with dispatch and/or other drivers, it is mainly a solitary job.  The drivers are removed and cut-off from the world around them.  The driver clears the path in isolation, insulated from their environment, accompanied by the sheer volume of the plow.
  • (Drawback): In much the same manner as the snow plow driver, many a leader insulates and isolates themselves from their environment and those they lead.  They set up processes and protocols that insulate them.  Insulating them from the necessary input and authentic feedback that allow them to lead effectively.  When leaders cut themselves off from those they lead, they no longer have their finger on the pulse of their organization or institution.

Snow-Plow Leadership can stand as an obstacle to the very collaborative processes that allow leaders to effectively lead organizations in an authentic and positive manner.  Leaders who insulate themselves from those they serve lack the necessary input and authentic feedback that allow those they lead, their organizations, and their very leadership to flourish.  Diminishing their leadership and influence…and unfortunately, often cutting short their season of leadership.


One thought on “Snow-Plow Leadership

  1. Hey Pal,

    Another great metaphor. I love that about your writing. Thanks for sharing this.

    Probably going to whip up a slide using the idea sometime in the next week. I’ll share it with you when it’s done.

    Rock on,

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