Controlling the Flow: Why Today’s Leaders Have To Be Plumbers Too


Controlling the Flow: Why Today’s Leaders Have To Be Plumbers Too

There’s a role a leader must play that in this day and age is even more important than being a teacher or mentor.

It’s the role of a plumber. Yep, a plumber.

Think about this for a minute – a plumber deals with pressure and flow all the time –in this case as it pertains to water.

How that water is pressure controlled and directed is critical to the overall performance of a water circulation system, especially when heated water is involved.

Consequently, plumbers know all about safety valves, drain cleaners and and the other tools at their disposal when the pressure gets too high or the water backs up in the wrong direction.

And that’s where a leader can learn a lot from a plumber.

Leaders deal with high pressure all the time – both externally and internally.  This pressure can generate much “overheated” energy, and get to the boiling point of anger.  They also deal with information that can “flow” in the wrong direction – that is, they have managers that openly express negative or detrimental words to the people they lead.

That’s where “safety valves” and “drain cleaners” are needed- things that can easily and effectively “release” the pressure, or control the flow of information, without causing any harm.

When it comes to your teammates, that safety valve and drain cleaner is YOU. You must provide a safe outlet to release any pressure or provide a reliable listening post for bad/negative news.  Teammates must feel comfortable walking into your office, or calling you on the phone, to express their anger or frustration, or to bring you bad news.

And you must be able to patiently listen to this pressure release, and not funnel it to any other dangerous place, or worse yet, react to it in a way that builds the pressure up to the point of an explosion. It must dissipate harmlessly, so any underlying issues can be dealt with calmly and rationally.

It’s a matter of a leader facing reality – and understanding the personalities of everyone on the team.   Everybody gets unhappy with something at one point or another. The key to successfully handling this unhappiness is to make sure it gets directed at you, rather than spread like a virus around you.

Put it this way – wouldn’t you rather take the time to listen to someone vent to you, rather than have that person continue to build unreleased anger, resentment, and negativity, which undoubtedly could “leak” out to other teammates and create mass disharmony and a decrease in team effectiveness?

Which then puts your ability to lead at serious risk.  General Colin Powell put it this way:

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

I know it takes a lot of patience to be a plumber– but in the end, it pays off.  Encourage your teammates to speak to you FIRST any time the pressure is too great, and their anger has built up. When they do call to vent or bring you problems, listen attentively. 9 times out of 10, the release will be all they need – and the plumber will have done its job.

Occasionally, the anger and pressure is so great that you can’t reduce it enough – and that’s when you have to move beyond merely acting as a valve by then transitioning to a teacher and mentor.

I’ve learned this the hard way over my many years in the business world, especially when I didn’t have a leader/plumber of my own.

Unchecked and unreleased anger can be a killer to any organization, but add “plumber” to your leadership toolbox, and you’ll be just fine.

And you don’t even need a wrench.  [🙂]


Leadership Iowa Grocery Industry Association