Friday, March 25, 2011

Spinning Plates

Plate spinning is an act you might see at a circus or a comedy club. It is an attention getter as the performer and maybe an assistant work hard to keep plates spinning on a pole extended from the ground. The tension builds as more and more plates are added. As the plates lose their speed, the performer must return over and over again to increase the speed of the spinning plates. If not, the plates fall to the ground and break. The world record for the number of plates spinning on these poles is 108.

I have heard many individuals in management and in ministry compare their work load as plate spinning. These leaders are frustrated that they must constantly return to projects they are responsible for and check to see the status of the work. If there are issues they must take time away from other projects they are involved in. These leaders return over and over again to each project in order to keep those plates spinning. It seems to them that there is no one else who can handle this difficult, dangerous and important task. Ultimately something crashes.

No one wants to follow a leader who pushes others aside as they focus only on the work of spinning plates. No one wants to follow a leader that eliminates plates because they grow tired of spinning plates. To be an effective leader requires trust. Trust that the right person is in place to keep their plate spinning. Each pole and plate must be manned by the right person. This person understands the importance of keeping that plate spinning and they demonstrate the joys and rewards to others.

These others become future plate spinners and the number of spinning plates on pole increases. If the trust is real, plate spinning becomes an art. New methods and techniques are discovered, used and shared with the other plate spinners. A network of plate spinners is created.

Every so often a plate crashes to the ground. It might be that the equipment (pole) may need to be repaired. It might be because a lack of focus on the spinner or the leader. It might be because of a lack of training. Maybe the entrusted spinner is trying to spin multiple plates instead of empowering other plate spinners. But the great thing about plate spinning is that the broken plate can be replaced. The good leader is not actively spinning plates. This allows the good leader the ability to work one on one, or through the plate spinning network, with the plate spinner. Together they create a plan that keeps their plate spinning.

I remember the first time I saw the plate spinning act on TV, I think it was on the Ed Sullivan show. I was amazed that the performer could handle so many spinning plates. And I remember the anxiety I felt as I watched the performer work hard to maintain the spinning plates. I was at the edge of my seat. But that was a great performance; I cannot imagine living a life filled with that kind of anxiety everyday as I approached work or ministry.

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