Gerrit Cloete, former colleague and now owner of Productivity Pitstop, told me about one of his weekend adventures – he often walks among the beautiful mountains of Cape Town, both for exercise and relaxation and also for the opportunity presented for reflection. On this particular occasion, Gerrit decided to park near Signal Hill and climb Lion’s Head, a peaky mountain situated alongside famous Table Mountain. As he walked towards the neck of Lion’s Head along the pathway that runs across the “back of the lion”, it being early morning, he found himself having to clear a myriad of freshly spun spiders’ webs, that frequently spanned the path, with a stick that he had picked up from the surrounding underbrush. Upon reaching the neck, he sat down to rest and to look over the Atlantic Ocean. Deciding to spend the rest of the morning walking on a nearby beach that he could see from his vantage point, he retraced his steps down the narrow path, at one point stepping aside to allow some other early morning hikers to pass going upwards on the trail. It suddenly struck him that these hikers, chatting away merrily, were seemingly unaware that the spiders’ web obstacles had previously been removed and that they were now enjoying uninterrupted passage up the mountain.

As I sat thinking about Gerrit’s observations, it dawned on me that the removal of obstacles that hold employees back from reaching their full potential is the job of the leader. A manager should always be looking for ways to make it easier to do one’s work – removing hindrances to good workflow, putting an end to unnecessary report-writing and loosening up draconian systems and rules. An oppressively bureaucratic environment kills spontaneity, creativity and the flow of good ideas and disempowers at best. Employees need to sense a willingness on the part of the leader to entertain new ideas and the manager’s genuine care for the staff.

Managers should be working hard to address the following issues:

  • Bureaucracy – unnecessary and sometimes burdensome systems, processes and approval lines that slow down the organisation and disempower the employees
  • “Paper work” that doesn’t add real value – too many reports, cross-checking systems and constant internal audit processes can become overwhelming and can potentially distract one from real goals
  • Confusing production environments – I am surprised at how many production lines are not spatially well designed to accommodate functions and human resources needed for the operations – natural flow production lines need to be implemented so as not to frustrate employees
  • Disempowering approval systems – decision-making and signing off on budget needs to be driven to the lowest possible levels in the organisation to engender trust and ownership
  • Bad service offered to staff by internal service departments – service level agreements need to be concluded with departments like Human Resources, Supply Chain, Stores, Procurement, Internal Audit, Finance and Information Technology to ensure professional and timely delivery to operational personnel
  • Ineffective feedback loops – employees need to know that their ideas, concerns and opinions are being heard, so managers should acknowledge the same and spend time on discussing these comments with the staff
  • Sub-standard communication – employees need to know, understand, feel part of and contribute towards the company’s big picture strategy, so frequent updates and progress reports need to be shared with the employees, making time for observations, questions and ideas
  • Unnecessary and ineffective meetings – meetings that are not focused, with little or no accountability for decisions made, slow down production and mitigate against getting good results

The removal of obstacles that hold employees back from reaching their full potential is indeed the job of the leader. A “cobweb-free” environment facilitates focus and energy applied appropriately in the organisation. The manager should thus be freeing up the environment to facilitate an uninterrupted passage to success for all employees. Full potential can then possibly be realised.

Postscript – Gerrit Cloete is the owner of Productivity Pitstop (, doing work internationally, turning your business software and mobile devices into high performance productivity tools.

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