Are you really stronger than the weakest link?

I was lying in my hotel room in Wasserlos, Germany and right around 2:00am a voice came rushing into my brain, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  My first thought was thank goodness I do not have to build a baseball diamond in my backyard (my wife would be less than thrilled)!  This was immediately followed by my second thought, which was that it was pretty strange to have this pearl of wisdom come rushing in at 2:00am in Wasserlos, Germany.  Fortunately for you, we will be discussing the importance of what the voice said and meant.  As for my issue of hearing voices in the middle of the night, well that’s best left for serious couch time with my therapist.


A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.


If I were a metallurgist I would probably have to agree with that statement. But if I think of this statement as fact in terms of a team of people or a collection of business units, then this reasoning falls apart.  In my experience, this rational becomes a crutch for the stronger players to expect less of themselves.  Now I know if you are receiving this email then you are probably one of the stronger players and thus cannot imagine that you are rationalizing your actions or the lack there of.  Wrong!!


Quite often I am in conversations with people and they animatedly explain to me that it’s not their fault.  If their CEO or President or VP of Marketing or Operations or CFO or any one of their peers were less of an idiot, well then of course they would be much more successful.  They have their empirical data that shows that these unqualified or inane individuals have caused a considerable drain on the organization and, in fact, have impeded their chance to excel.  It is a natural human trait to transfer blame or to defend why they are not as successful as they should or could be.


In every instance, once we put the Kleenex down and wipe away the tears of the unjust management, the greedy money grubbing wall street types or a screwed up culture that just won’t allow you to succeed, we discover that there are always (and yes, I mean always) ways in which you could have done more to further the solution.  Truthfully, most people I work with are overwhelmed with embarrassment when it is discovered that they have dumbed down their own thinking to the level of those that they are most critical of.  These executives, manger or leaders have become the smartest people in the 5th grade class.  They have convinced themselves that their performance is OK because every one else’s is worse. Where is the integrity in that thinking?  Can you imagine if Einstein said, “Well if no one else is interested in space and time…” What if Pasture had reasoned that every body gets sick drinking milk so why bother?  Think of Columbus rationalizing his beliefs based on other philosophers or world leaders who were unable to find their own butts with a map??? 


Life is extremely challenging and ever changing and you experience this phenomenon every single day. Unless you hold yourself to the standard you know you are capable of, these challenges become over whelming and, at some point in time, you will surrender to the onslaught of resistance. 


So the true question becomes: Is the weakest link the problem or is it your tendency to abdicate your roll and your strength? Does the project, profit, global communications, growth, profitability, customer relations, budget, strategy, culture, product development or acquisition fall apart because of one weak link?  Or rather is a less than favorable outcome derived from each individual link calibrating itself to the weakest point and therefore never reaching its full potential?  I challenge each of you to look at any failed venture, do some serious review of your involvement and do a gap analysis on what needed to be done and what you yourself did.  Caution – make sure you do this in the safety of your closed door office so no one sees you pull out the Kleenex as you discover how low you have calibrated your expectations and actions based on the capabilities of others.


So once you’ve had your eureka moment, how do you keep yourself from falling into this trap again?  The reality is that you can’t. But what you can do is make yourself aware when you are rushing down the path of blame and stop.  You can also remember to look into the mirror every morning and before you step into your office of glass, be sure to drop your stones of blame.  Life and business are challenging enough without making you your own worst enemy. So gather yourself, focus on the tasks at hand, grab a whole big heap of humility and drive.  Go out there and do everything YOU can do.  A whole lot of people at your business and at home are depending on it.




My goal for this blog has always been two-fold. First, I have the opportunity to share my insights and years of experience with you, the reader. And second, I myself get to hear your thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. To make this blog a mutually beneficial experience, I would ask that you take the time to post your comments, your questions and your own war stories from your years in the business. Let’s use this blog to generate dialogue on the issues we’ve all faced in our businesses and work together to come to some great solutions.


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Categories: Leadership | Tags: , ,

One Response to Are you really stronger than the weakest link?

  1. Jan Smit says:

    Barry, another great article. In the current business environment valid more than ever.

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