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Give ‘Em Enough Rope….


I like to start each day with an early morning yoga class. And, if I get there early enough, I stretch out my spine by hanging upside down from ropes that are anchored to the wall.   A friend recently walked into the studio, announcing, “There’s Julie.  Give her enough rope and she’ll hang herself!”

How frequently have we heard – or spoken – that expression? The workplace is filled with examples of employees set up to ‘hang’ by being given just enough ‘rope’.

But what if leaders re-wrote this expression… and in the process re-thought how to support employee (and organizational) success with the gift of the right kind of rope being offered for the right reason? Maybe we’d start hearing new permutations on an old expression.

Give ‘em enough rope… to explore, learn, grow, and fail without severe consequences. Many extreme sports (of which work is quickly becoming one) allow for participants to work in pairs for safety and support. When rock climbing for instance, it’s comforting to know that a misstep won’t send you to the ground but rather you’ll fall just the length of the rope between you and your partner. In organizations, leaders can play the same role for employees, giving them enough rope to take risks and stretch themselves with the knowledge that a slip isn’t fatal and that the leader will be there to help them get back on their paths.

Give ‘em enough rope… to lasso their dreams. One of the most powerful things a leader can do is to understand – really understand – what their employees’ hopes, goals, and aspirations include. This kind of fundamental connection and the knowledge it yields… that’s the foundation of motivation. Savvy leaders will use what they learn to personalize the work experience for employees, offering targeted opportunities and giving them enough rope to follow and achieve their dreams.

Give ‘em enough rope… to figure out how to handle ‘knotty’ problems and tie up loose ends. Growth and learning can be messy. In fact, sometimes the messiest situations deliver the most profound insights and development. But leaders committed to letting others learn by struggling with challenging situations need to continue to be there as a life line. They need to stay attuned to the situations and the employees, giving them enough rope to grapple with and resolve issues for themselves without creating liabilities for anyone involved (including the organization).

As leaders, let’s start looking at how we can give others enough rope to confidently explore and excel at what matters most to them. Let’s let them know that they have the support they need to be successful. Because when we get good at that, we’ll find that our people end up ‘hanging’ around a lot longer.

What about you? Does your organization give people enough rope to hang themselves… or to do great things?


  1. Yes, why want give them enough rope and well designed systems that give them freedom but also use “rope” to provide support – You can use rope to help people get themselves to new heights.

    You want systems that let people take on challenges without too many restrictions but with enough support and training that you don’t leave them hanging.

    “to figure out how to handle ‘knotty’ problems and tie up loose ends.” – Yes, and the ropes should suit their situation. A tightrope over a chasm is fine for a trained acrobat with a balancing pole. It is foolish for someone without the right training or tools. They would be better served with something else – a rope bridge with railings…

    • I love where you’ve taken this, John. You are absolutely right. Too frequently and for too many people work does feel like a tightrope… when a nice sturdy (but still flexible) rope bridge would suit many of us better. I really appreciate the imagery you’ve offered… and your contribution to this conversation. Many thanks!


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