Playing the edges…

This week I have been talking to a wide range of my clients and spending time developing leaders at all different levels. There has been a bit of a recurring theme that has developed.

This theme is the human trait to “play the edges” What do I mean by this? Well, as humans we are wired to look for opportunities to seek out ways to make things as easy as possible for ourselves. Our brains crave simplicity and where we can avoid difficult challenges we will naturally seek out the easiest path. This natural habit means tat we are prone to look for the cracks in processes and procedures that give us an opt out or enables us to do things in a way that makes it easier for us.

As someone who wants to create change and movement in others this is a really positive attribute – because generally in these edges is where we find opportunities to improve and do things differently. However, when it comes to managing others this can also cause is significant issues or problems. This is where playing two people off against each other comes from – because in the gaps between those two peoples views we find the edge and we can exploit it to our advantage.

When I work with leaders I talk to them about the concept of Setting the Square – this is a subject I have blogged about here before so i won’t bore you all with what this means in detail (if you want to know more drop me a note at and I will happily explain it further. The key thing to know about setting the square is to define the edges and make this definition really clear for those you lead.

When members of your team start to try and play the edges – pushing against the standards that your square defines the best leaders ensure that there are no cracks. The more you sway and bend the square, the more openings are discovered and the more people will use those gaps to create the outcome they want – not the one you need from them. The end result of this is all the energy gets wasted on finding ways to avoid doing the things that are needed and all the creativity gets focussed on ways to get round what is being asked.

This can be particularly true where members of the team don’t want to perform certain parts of the job or deliver to a certain required standard. They will test your resolve when it comes to these expectations and any “gap” they see will result in further testing until the gap is widened enough to make the standards so unclear I excuse myself for not doing them. Please don’t get me wrong – this is not always a malicious act. It’s just human nature to avoid what we don’t like in favour of the way we want things to be.

One tip that we discussed this week in our sessions is a favourite of mine and its very, very simple but also very effective. When faced with someone challenging the need to do X or Y we simple say “Ok so we need to achieve X so what I want to talk to you about is how we are going to make that happen”. Notice – we are not discussing the merits of X and we are certainly not debating if X is even going to be done – we are simple focussing on the fact X is going to happen and you have to find a way to make it happen.

We have had a conversation of this kind in our business recently and it makes for a far more powerful, empowering and enabling discussion than a conversation that focusses on if the task is going to be done or not. When you just discuss a subject with the base assumption it is going to happen (and needs to) then you focus the energy in the room on how it can be done and what people will do. This is a way more impactful discussion.

I encourage you to try it out with your teams. At Mindset Associates we help leaders with simple practical steps they can take to help get the best out of their teams. Drop us a line to talk to us about how we can help you or your teams become brilliant leaders.

Haydn Bratt, Pioneer, Mindset Associates

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