Lead Like a Curling Sweeper

Canadian Curling Team in 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, via Bjarte Hetland under Creative Commons

The sport of Curling makes an excellent analogy for servant leadership. In this sport, each player must lead in a way, but the Sweeper is like the servant leader. The Skip sets a stone in motion toward a target. As the stone slides along the ice, the Skip then  calls directions to the Sweepers. Sweepers respond by sweeping the ice ahead of the stone more, or less, according the direction of the Skip. The sweeping motion, veracity and direction influence the path of the stone. On the stone’s path to it’s objective there may be obstacles (opposing stones). These factors as well as the overall distance, curl of the stone and other conditions must be accounted for. As a result, there is much shouting back-and-forth between Sweepers and Skips. The Sweepers explain what they see and the Skip provides direction. Communication is critical to success.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” – Max DePree

In leadership, the factors are similar. A leader must count on the team to set their stones in motion, aimed at specific objectives or targets. Once put into motion though, it is the job of the leader to clear any obstacles. If the Skip or team were able to remove the obstacles, they would. However, when not possible, the leaders must be listening to the team for guidance. Where do they need help? Where must the trajectory of the stone be altered to account for obstacles? In return, the team has the accountability and responsibility to ensure the leader is aware of approaching issues.

Toxic Leadership Perspective

Toxic leaders have a narcissistic need to feel powerful and in control. Therefore, from the toxic leader perspective:

The Skip: Represents the leader, shouting order to the sweepers.

The Sweepers: Reflect the team, receiving direction from the leader on all matters.

Servant Leadership Perspective

In contrast to the toxic leader, the servant leader may alter directions for the project, but seeks to serve the team in accomplishing the organization’s goals. Therefore, from a servant leader perspective:

The Skip: Represents your team.

The Sweeper: Reflects your role of clearing the path for the stones, directed by your team, the Skip.

The Broom: Is your tool for clearing the path for the project. This could be you, other teams you guide to solve a problem or any other tool removing obstacles.

The Stone: Is the project, service or product your team is working on getting to the target or objective.

As a leader, you need to serve the organization. Don’t be fooled into thinking you must shout orders to everyone. Instead, be open to receiving direction from the team. Much like the Skip, the team likely has the best perspective on where your efforts are headed and how to hit the target.

Question: What is your favorite sport analogy to leadership?



Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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