Worker pouring molten metal

Leading is tough as questions start to feel bigger, the stakes feel higher and the water seems so much deeper.

The big meeting is coming up, big dollars are on the table, big teams waiting to hear from you, big projects to deliver, complex problems to solve.

I’ve never done this before! Yikes.

It is easy as a leader to zoom out and raise your head into the clouds. Create a story, a more abstracted view of the world, a vision we’ll find our way towards some day. Giving yourself breathing room, the time to tell a bigger story, grow the team, bring in a vendor or consultant and disperse the responsibility.

This is big-company “leadership” yes? This is part of the deal!

No. That’s just a different version of putting your head in the sand.

Closer to The Metal?

There’s a saying in computer programming, “closer to the metal”. The highest performance programming languages that have direct access to computing hardware. No abstraction, buffers or bloat. (more on Quora)

These programming languages being closer to the metal decreases the layers between the program and where it will run, increasing the speed of its execution. They can be harder work with, have more sharp edges and demand more talent and mastery.

High performance gaming, high-frequency stock trading, cryptography, security and more choose this harder path every day.

Speed matters, they need to be closer to the metal.

There’s a corollary here for leadership.

A Leader is Closer to The Metal

When a leader is closer to the metal they are closer to their customer. Closer to their team. Closer to the work. Closer to the reality of the situation.

They move with agility, they’ve heard directly from their customer, they empower their teams, they have tools in their hands. They can put a solution in place, see how it’s working and adapt.

As we grow in leadership and the depth of the water we are swimming in gets deep we must keep close watch on our reaction and posture.

If your head starts rising to the clouds, check yourself. Take a quick peek from that higher vantage point. Then move back down to engage your customer, sit with the team, make a decision you can learn from and go from there.

Less tangled up in a story.

Less abstracted, more real.

Less perfect, more done.

Make your brand of leadership Closer to The Metal.

Creative Commons images used, thank you.