Though I don’t always agree with John Maxwell, I remain a big fan of his teachings. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is my favorite of his books and though I believe in each of the laws contained therein, the one that captured much of my attention over the last few months has been “The Law of The Lid”. The basic premise of this law is that one’s leadership ability serves as the ceiling for the organization that he or she is attempting to lead. In essence, the team will never be more effective than a leader allows them to be. We may be better because of our leader and we may be great despite our leader, but the leader represents the lid of any organization.

With that understanding, it becomes rather clear that a leader’s job is to help the team to realize their potential. Potential is realized only when the team has clear expectations, understands the objectives, is empowered to act decisively, and has leadership that is committed to both giving the team the tools needed to do their jobs and helping to remove identified obstacles preventing progress. Having recently been part of a leadership triad committed to creating a lidless command, it is rather frustrating to see others who don’t share that commitment. I see evidence of these leaders amongst some of my juniors, peers, and seniors. I informally help to coach juniors, work to influence peers, and offer insights to seniors, with varying levels of success.

It wasn’t until the last 90 days in my tenure as a Commanding Officer that we were able to see any real evidence that the staff to which we reported (“Corporate” for my civilian friends) began to truly understand that they were, in fact, serving as the lid to our organization. It wasn’t the Division Officer, it wasn’t the Department Head and it certainly wasn’t the Command Triad preventing the team from realizing our potential, it was a few key personalities a thousand miles away who chose not to make the time to remove barriers on our behalf. Fortunately for all, they shifted gears and made time at the 11th hour to raise the lid on our behalf.

I have worked for all kinds of people over the course of my career. I continue to enjoy working with those who are committed to lidless leadership, and I despise those who appear to take great pride in telling juniors to get in line, ask permission, and be overly aware of our respective rank insignia. Maybe taking pride is over the top, so I’ll assume they are merely emulating the very role that they experienced when they were the junior.

We wonder why so many of our more talented juniors leave the Navy? We wonder why so many of those who choose to assimilate are promoted? We wonder why we make so little progress despite our long hours and the solutions we share? I am convinced that leadership lids are a significant contributor; I know that is why I submitted my resignation 14 years ago (before recommitting to being part of the solution).

Working with and for “Lids” is commonplace. I’ve worked with and for many “Lids” and each time I recommit to not be “That Guy” (while helping them to see the errs of their ways, which isn’t always well received). In fact, the biggest reason I have chosen to continue to serve is to do my part to help raise the lid. In a recent post, I made reference to the definition of culture and our “Lids” continually contradict the very culture many are aspiring to cultivate. It seems as though each time we see visible evidence of a collective ownership model, our “Lids” demonstrate that we might not be committed to blocking for each other, we aren’t embracing our role as enablers, and we aren’t pridefully celebrating the successes across our extended team. We need to break the cycle and ensure we are each committed to lidlessly leading the team(s) under our charge.  We need to understand that we only succeed when WE succeed.

The ironic aspect of this whole observation is that the leader of the lid organization in this example is the most empowering, action-oriented leader with whom I have served. He epitomizes lidless leadership. In fact, I continue to do my best to demonstrate my commitment to many of the philosophies he imparted on me when I served directly with him on a previous staff. Rest assured, that staff was not a lid. It is said that the team is a reflection of its leader. Personally, I have never witnessed a bigger contradiction to that theory than I have over the last year. If the theory was true without exception, we would have accomplished so much more, much more quickly. This experience has proven to me that the lid of any given organization need not be the leader of the organization. Action Officers, mid-level management, and even the help desk can serve as lids.

I ask that we all consider the lids that are holding us back and demand that they do better. If after some reflection we see that we might, in fact, be operating as a lid, let’s change.  We talk of servant leadership, but until we all embrace the fact that true leaders are primarily focused on serving others and we demonstrate a shared commitment to mission accomplishment (not just managing our in-box), we will never realize our collective potential.

  • What/Who are the lids across your team?
  • Are you a lid?
  • What are you doing to raise the lid?