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Spinning Leadership

Think circles. I remember this advice as far back as my teenage years and wanting to ride my Schwinn Continental as powerfully and efficiently as the pros. There were no clip-in pedals back then. It was the up and down of regular pedals, or the possibility of spinning – with toe-clips. If you saw a bicycle in the 1970’s with toe-clips dangling underneath un-occupied pedals, it was a sure sign of a serious cyclist. It was someone in the pursuit of thinking and creating – circles.

Folks will often ask me how long I have been cycling, as if it were something new. My standard reply is that I never got the “memo” to stop. Learning to ride at about five years of age, my relationship with riding is now approaching the half century mark. To say that cycling and spinning has had a major influence on my life is what the German language captures well in the word – unterbewertung – understatement.

I was recently doing a 360 interview for an executive that I am coaching. In the conversation with one of his direct reports, the interviewee described the leader as having more conversations one on one with his direct reports than with the team as a whole. The unintended consequence of this practice left the leader holding a lot of important information and the rest of the team not knowing as much. As he was describing this to me, a clear visual came to mind. The leader was the hub – all his direct reports were the spokes. They were all connected to the leader and yet they were missing the one piece that connected them to each other – They were missing the rim of the wheel.

When I shared this with the leader, it all clicked for him. The visual also presented a road map as to what he needed to do differently. When we met the next time, he led off by sharing that he had been giving “rim theory” a lot of thought. In the moment, I wasn’t quite sure what he was referring to by “rim theory “. Fortunately, I was able to figure out that it was the example that I had provided! Yes – “rim theory” as I nodded with deep (and sudden) understanding.

He then shared that when he had described the theory and visual to his team – it clicked for them also. He acknowledged that he could and must do a better job of connecting the spokes. They needed to spin as a team if they wanted to perform better. Together – they would connect the spokes to the rim. This simple model became a visual check as to whether they were being collaborative and working as a team. Thinking circles was adding value in ways that I would have never anticipated.

This seemed to be a pretty helpful model, so I shared it with another coaching client. His situation was different, so he saw “rim theory” through a very different lens. It made sense to him and he focused on the strength of the spokes. If on a team, one does not have equal tension from each member/spoke, then the wheel will be out of true – it will not be balanced. He saw that the leader/hub needed to keep the team in equal tension in order to spin well. If one or more team members/spokes are too strong, then it throws the whole wheel out of alignment. It makes for a rough ride! It was a great insight and spot on.

There are a multitude of different lenses to see and use “rim theory” and spinning leadership. I would be curious to hear from you how you might work with it. What applications do you see for you with any teams you are involved with? How do you keep all the parts in balance/true so that you can spin easily together? At this point, some of you might be curious about the role of tires on these high performing wheels. I think that is a separate blog. I welcome your thoughts.

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