Leadership is like a toenail
A few months ago I was lucky enough to attend an effective leadership training program with Heather Salmon and APEX Performance Solutions. I think this was an attempt by work to mould my direct and dictatorial approach into something more becoming of a public servant.
During the workshop I made the rash claim that leadership is like a toenail. Spurred on by my colleagues to justify this outlandish utterance, I threw around clichés and drivel left, right and centre. Truth be told, a bib would have been very handy to catch the rubbish coming from my mouth.
However, having had time to think about this analogy further, without the pressure of being on the spot and the expectation of coming up with something bizarre, I think this idea could actually work – and here’s how.
Apart from being a by-product of human waste and a hot bed of fungi, a toenail has the purpose of protecting the tip of the toe and the surrounding softer tissue from damage. It also enhances the awareness and responsiveness of the foot so the nerve endings are completely in tune with their surroundings.
A leader also seeks to protect those around them – their team, confident about taking the brunt of criticism when things don’t go well for their team members. A leader will also enhance the awareness and responsiveness of their team – helping them to build their strengths and skills, adapting their leadership style to match the needs of the team as well as each individual team member. So, toenails and leaders are like two peas in a pod protecting and enhancing what’s around them.
When toenails turn nasty
But wait there’s more… not all toenails are healthy, beautiful specimens that drive podophiliacs wild. Unhealthy toenails can indicate problems with someone’s overall health. And like toenails, not all leaders are created perfect. Poor leadership can indicate all is not rosy within a team. When a toenail is unhealthy or damaged, moving forward can be painful and difficult. The same can be seen in a business or organisation -when leadership is poor, then moving forward as a business can be slow and painful.
Just as nails can become infected by onychomycosis or a fungus that can spread if not dealt with promptly lacklustre, uninspirational leadership can cause dissatisfaction and negativity among staff – spreading to first one team member and then to the entire team. Immediate removal of the nail or leader as a first solution is unwise (and costly), especially when trying other treatments first can solve the problem – a topical cream for the toenail provided by a healthcare professional or leadership coaching for the leader.
The model toenail
So there you have it. A healthy toenail and a good leader exist without you ever really knowing they exist. They develop themselves and their surrounding tissue/team members and are always aware of and responsive to the next movement and growth of the foot/ challenge and growth of the team.
So who is a tip-top toenail? When I first raised this leadership analogy on the effective leadership programme many of my colleagues fell about laughing – and then pictured the same staff member they considered to be confident, quick to share success and develop the strengths within their team. This person was able to deal with problems seemingly before they arrived and had the support of the team in working towards a common vision. Obviously, I won’t name that person here, but from the public world the person I can name is Tana Umaga. I think he epitomises everything a good leader stands for. Even when wielding a hand bag or making disparaging comments about the art of tiddlywinks, he possessed and for this he had the respect of the team and the nation. I’m not too sure however, how he’d feel about being likened to a toenail!
So who’s your healthy toenail of a leader? Would Tana’s toes do it for you? Or is there someone that you know of who immediately springs to mind when you think about great leadership qualities?
But let’s not stop at toenails – what analogies would you come up with that describe the ultimate leader?