Byron's Babbles

The Tension Of Spinning The Plates

Gem #2 was titled “An Action Deferred Is A Tension Retained” in the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I loved the metaphor he used for this gem of the circus act of spinning plates. In fact I used this same metaphor in my blog post My New Leadership Talent: Spinning Plates! The question really becomes paradoxical as to whether we should be spinning plates, or at the very least how many we should be spinning. The point of Stewart’s gem was that all of the tasks we have cause anxiety (tension) and we need to make sure and prioritize and not procrastinate.

“You are the willing and unwilling recipient of countless actions from work, home, school, and community. It can be overwhelming to process and complete all of these tasks, especially when you procrastinate or don’t prioritize. ~ John Parker Stewart

We all know how the plate spinning act works, right? The performer starts with one plate and once she gets it spinning, adds another, then another. At some point the performer has to back to the first plate and give it a spin to keep it going. Doesn’t this sound familiar in our day to day lives as leaders? The performance typically ends when one of two things happens – the performer runs out of plates, or he takes too much time adding a new plate to the rotation, and another plate slows down enough to wobble out of control and fall off the rod, crashing to the ground in a thousand pieces. Doesn’t this even sound more familiar?

A few things we need to remember. It’s much easier to start something than it is to keep it going. Therefore we need to think about what we start and can we and our team handle it. We have to achieve balance by spreading time across all the spinning plates. This means we need to think strategically about what we should be taking on. Then once started complete the task/project so that it does not become a wobbling plate and fall off the stick.

As a leader we must also keep our eye on all of the plates to avoid catastrophe. We don’t always need to be, and shouldn’t be, the one keeping all the plates spinning, but we do need to be watching to make sure the plates are still spinning. This is where I like to think about what do I have my hands “on” versus what do I have my hands “in”.

It’s a delicate balance, and I must tell you; I’m not very good at it at times. Each plate must spin fast enough but not too fast, and you have to pay enough attention to all but not too much to any particular one. So therefore we must continue to improve our ability to prioritize, enable others, and not procrastinate. How are you at spinning plates?


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