I am a big fan of John Maxwell’s teachings. One of my favorite of the ‘laws’ of leadership he espouses is that of the ‘Law of the Lid.’ For those who are not familiar with the ‘Law of the Lid’, simply put, leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the individual’s ability to lead, the higher the lid on his potential. For example, if your leadership rates a 9, then your effectiveness can never be greater than an 8. If my leadership is only a 3, then my effectiveness will be no higher than a 2. Our leadership ability determines our effectiveness and the potential impact we will have across our team. I firmly believe that in many respects leadership is a team sport.  For that reason, I like to aggregate the ‘Law of the Lid’ and apply it to a leadership team. And any team is only ass effective as the weakest link. My days at the US Naval Academy gave me great appreciation for the fact that “On the strength of one link in the cable, Dependeth the might of the chain…” (from the 5th Law of the Navy). For that reason, it is vital that a leadership team acknowledge the ‘lid’ they represent and to make each link stronger.

As important as it is to recognize that the lid represents the highest heights a leader can take a team, it is critical to understand that the floor of the leadership team represents the lid from the vantage point of our juniors. By raising our individual lid, we raise our collective floor. And it is the floor that holds us back far more than we realize. So while I continue to invest in myself to raise my personal lid, developing teammates and thereby raising the floor has been a renewed priority of late. Over the course of my career, I have found that three ways to do just that.

  1. Onboard – In a perfect world, every new member welcomed to our team is even better than the teammate who left. For that is the only way to raise the average. There are times when that is an impossible task, given the specialized expertise required in some areas and the wisdom that only experience can develop. But when we measure ‘better’ by character, curiosity, and team-orientation, it becomes very achievable. In fact, I believe a commitment to a ‘better than the predecessor’ onboarding philosophy is the single most important approach to raising the floor. This makes patience vitally important, as we wait to select the right teammate and not merely fill the vacancy as quickly as possible because we are overworked.
  2. Develop – Those who are fortunate enough to be on the team are worthy of investment. If we want them to grow, we must invest in them. Yes, we hope they care enough to invest in themselves, but we need to properly equip them. Equip them to do more than their job and more than they believe they are capable of. Inspiring others to want more for themselves is sometimes challenging, but there are few things as gratifying in life as when we expose teammates to new thinking, help them develop new abilities, and create opportunities for them to grow their confidence.
  3. Weed –  This is the second most important aspect of raising the floor. For it is the weeding of the individuals who are not committed to raising their own personal lid, thereby representing our floor, that affords us the opportunity to onboard someone who will raise our average. Let’s face it, there are plenty of people in our world who are more than happy doing the minimum. Who may not be content with the way things are, but aren’t interested in making them any better. And who shun opportunities others attempt to create for them. Where many proudly outgrow a team, these individuals allow the team to outgrow them while unintentionally holding us all back. These teammates must be given reason to leave. We don’t always succeed in helping others to become even better than they are. And that is where the weeding comes in. Sometimes we raise our average, by getting rid of the laggards. It’s not easy, it’s not fun, and yet it’s vital to the health of the team. Just last week, I overheard a senior officer tell a young Sailor that “If the minimum wasn’t the minimum, it wouldn’t be the minimum. Why do more?”  Needless to say, I had a closed door session with him. I have no authority over this individual, so the weeding is out of my personal control. Instead I strive to help him develop and change his counterproductive outlook.

Last week, I spoke with our leadership team about our ongoing efforts to raise our individual lids and collective floor. I believe we are doing great with the onboarding and there are some great initiatives on the development piece. The challenge on the development initiatives is that those in greatest need of development are not the ones choosing to benefit from the investment. We need to change that. The weeding efforts? We hope it doesn’t come to that, but those honest conversations aren’t as plentiful as they need to be.

  • How are you raising your lid?
  • What is your team doing to raise the floor?
  •  Is your teams average higher today than last year? Where will it be next year?