Authenticated user menu

11 August 2012
Total views

The Slinky Spring of Leadership

It's not the most immediate of comparisons, but a recent conversation with a regional medical director led to us discussing how best to conceptualise effective leadership as a sustainable entity. The slinky spring made a metaphorical appearance at this point and I wonder if you've ever heard this one, or might have forgotten it. It's not new but it bears repetition, and you can make as much of it as you wish, the longer you mull it over.

Slinkies?! We've all had one - some of us still do. Hours...well, perhaps minutes of fun can be had in setting a slinky off down the stairs: although, like watching two toddlers seemingly playing nicely, we know what the ending will be, we can't resist pushing the slinky down just one more time. But there's more to a slinky than meets the eye. It represents all you need to know about the principles of teamwork and measured progress in sustainable, effective leadership.

Because the bottom of the slinky is the workforce. Each grain of metal which makes up the coils is a key member of your clinical team. They need to stick together, or the coil will break, and the slinky's sole purpose in life is lost.  Slowly, slowly, the coil rises higher. That's your more senior staff. They sit above the bottom coils of the spring, but without that foundation they too end up at the bottom.

Ever upward go the coils, and ever more senior are the grains within those coils. But watch how the uppermost portion wobbles if you give the slinky a sideways push! It'll only stay steady if the lower coils are nicely stacked. Kinks or bends in the metalwork? The slinky falls over.

And when - right at the top- it's decided to improve the leadership ethos within the spring, raising practice to new heights of proficiency within the organisation which that slinky represents, well, then, you start to pull that slinky up into the air. Gradually, carefully, you pull the slinky up to a height. Watch as those coils unfurl....each only able to do so as its molecular neighbours stick together. Minute by minute the coils widen apart as new heights of leadership are attained. Sequentially the lower coils rise, until eventually all are higher and can see further. But each part of the spring is joined to its colleague above and below.

So much for the metaphor. But consider this: aim too high, too fast at the top of the spring and what do you get? You yank at the coils, the top five widen alarmingly, leaving a tendril down to the clump of coils still on the table. They might shoot up. More often they just stay put. You pull at too many coils too quickly and the whole thing falls over. And moreover, should you let go of the ascending structure too quickly or too carelessly, the slinky wobbles into a heterogenous mess and takes ages to sort out back to where you started.

So the next time you want a cheap reminder of the importance of cohesive and team-centred practice when it comes to raising the heights of leadership in your organisation, stop at the joke shop and invest in a slinky. Put it on your desk and think about it. You'll not buy a better value analogy anywhere.

[With thanks to Dan Cathy]

 or  Register to add a comment

About the author

Darren Kilroy's picture

Darren Kilroy

Darren Kilroy FCEM M.Ed. Ph.D. is a Consultant in Emergency Medicine in Cheshire, and Director for Network Leadership and Development in Unscheduled Care. He is also Hon. Senior Lecturer in Emergency Care at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Clinical Lead for Unscheduled Care at NHS Stockport. His main areas of interest are the challenges of clinical and managerial engagement around emergent clinical commissioning models, and the role of clinical leadership within transformational change.


Array ( [0] => sitewide [1] => advert_external_leaderboard [2] => not_front_desktop [3] => advert_external_wideskyscraper [4] => comments [5] => comments_login_prompt [6] => jobs_content_pages [7] => node-social-accelerators [8] => node_blog [9] => related_content [10] => advert_internal_desktop )