The Hamster Wheel Leader

The hamster wheel leader is a term to describe the leader who is always racing to get ahead of the demands that control their entire life, but the demands come faster than the ability to get ahead of them.  From the minute they get out of bed in the morning, their mind immediately begins to manage the “To Do” list for the day.  They are preparing conversations in their heads while brushing their teeth, mentally preoccupied by rebounding with solutions to problems they are forecasting might happen while forgetting where they put their coffee cup down.  How are they going to manage that one problem employee?  Is the presentation in order for the CEO? Did the vendor send a signed contract back or are there changes?  Like running on a hamster wheel, the list and the progress towards goals just keeps going.


The obvious recommendation to help coach the hamster wheel leader from having a heart attack is to prioritize, delegate, set goals, and tap the team for help.  Perfect solutions to manage chaos.  However, if these solutions were viable, they would have happened already.  They don’t always happen because something is consuming the emotions and thought processes of the hamster wheel leader that prevents the natural implementation of these wonderful solutions.  These road blocks to jumping off of the hamster wheel and on to a path of true progress towards leadership results often reveals itself in measures of trust, communication, accountability, followed up with a sense of self identity.


The first step off of the hamster wheel comes in the form of building TRUST.  Leaders can’t and won’t delegate to people or teams they don’t trust so in the absence of trust, the best delegation plan is totally worthless.  Effective leaders build trust first, then delegate with confidence.


The second step off of the hamster wheel is to effectively COMMUNICATE.  Good communication empowers energetic critical thinking on the team.  One timely critical thought can avoid ten problems and hours of headache follow up.  Good communication includes listening as well as talking and inspiring teams to do the same.  Effective communication may come in the form of old school face to face conversations where all details can be addressed at one time instead of emails where questions and answers tend to dribble in over time.


The next step off of the hamster wheel is to inspire ACCOUNTABILITY and attach people to the purpose of it.  Accountable team players prepare for road blocks, assume responsibility for errors which gets them back on track sooner instead of lingering in delays.  Leaders don’t and won’t delegate to unaccountable people.  But also understand, a leader who doesn’t delegate to a competent willing team is also not acting accountably.


What is super interesting is when over time the hamster wheel leader begins to believe their leadership identity and the hamster wheel are one in the same.  Running on the hamster wheel is normal and a demonstration of great leadership value.  The hamster wheel is the vehicle to demonstrate how fast they are running towards the goal, their level of commitment and all of the tasks they can manage simultaneously.  If they get off of the hamster wheel, now what?  If their teams become a well oiled machine by trusting, communicating, and demonstrating wonderful accountability, well now what?  If the leader gets off of the hamster wheel and goals still get met, why then who are they and what does leadership look like now.


The hamster wheel leader is often enduring symptoms of a bigger deeper problem.  They are not just consumed with a “To Do” list that grows at light speed on it’s own, but frequently leading in a trust, communication, and accountability vacuum.