Who wants the keys?


Many of us are natural followers, always happy to let someone else assume the burden of leadership.  But what happens when the leader is suddenly not leading so well?  What responsibility do you have as a follower to make things better?

I’ve worked for lots of great bosses in my life…but let’s set those aside for a moment.  Take a moment to think of one of the most INEFFECTIVE bosses you’ve ever worked for. Meaning no disrespect to the Three Stooges, I bet that boss’s behavior fit into one of three categories…Larry, Curly or Moe.

  • Larry – A punching bag and a general pacifist, he or she can’t make a decision without checking with someone first.  Basically a non-entity filling a corner office.
  • Curly – Fun is the answer to everything. This one listens but can’t focus on real priorities. Business is down and so is the morale?  Forget fixing the business problem…let’s do a teambuilding event!  Woob woob woob woob woob woob!!
  • Moe – Decisive but oppressive, this one motivates by fear.  If you only want short-term results, then by all means scare people to death. (Personal note:  I believe a true leader motivates a team through desire to succeed, not fear of failure.  Needless to say, I didn’t get along well with Moe.)

Have you worked for a Larry, Curly or Moe in your career?  Just like I’m doing right now, we expend too much energy complaining about our leaders’ lack of leadership, instead of doing something about it. 

My suggestion… if you see a leadership vacuum, fill it. The world is full of people who can identify problems, but not so many willing to solve them.

I worked in a restaurant when I was younger, and the General Manager Joe Still was conducting an all-hands meeting on a Saturday morning.  We were annoyed with the early hour, and with everything that was “wrong” with the operation.  Joe listened to about 20 minutes of our whining and complaining without saying a word.  Then he stood up, walked to the center of the large group and pulled out a large ring of silver and gold keys from his pocket.  He threw them down on the floor with a loud rattling CLANG.  I’ve never heard a room go from loud to silent so fast in my life.  He slowly made eye contact with each one of us in a slow sweeping arc before asking,

 “Who wants the keys?”

He repeated, a little louder, “WHO… WANTS… the KEYS?!”

It was the shortest and most effective motivational speech I had ever heard.  We all immediately stopped complaining, and were willing to show personal leadership in our respective areas for the benefit of the team.

The next time a tough job or controversial project arises, don’t complain about it.  Step up and volunteer to lead.  Lead from where you are, regardless of the official “organization chart” power structure. It’s an opportunity to show what you’re made of.  The world doesn’t necessarily need more leaders, it needs more leadership.  And anyone can lead, whether they have the official title or not. 

If you can inspire those beside you – you may even inspire those above you.

Explore posts in the same categories: Communication, Motivation

2 Comments on “Who wants the keys?”

  1. Jane Says:

    Yes, I’ve worked under more than one Moe, all at the same firm. Left them in the dust a few years ago, and now they can poke someone else’s eyes out. David, couldn’t help noticing the salute to the favorite heroes of the Goad family. Larry, Curly and Moe should be on the family crest.

  2. Jeff G Says:

    Well said. Leadership from below will often inspire bosses to be better bosses. Leadership from the front lines can create a “bouyancy” in the company that removes the burden of fear that can paralyze bosses into inaction. You can row faster if the boat isn’t taking on water!

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