Is Your Organization A Slinky, A Box Or Sacred Cow? Experiments In Leadership


On my office wall, where my degrees and other trinkets of achievement once hung, is a single framed picture. A gift from my mother; who knows, as only a mother can, what captures the imagination of her child. Beneath the glass is a reproduction of J.T. James’ nearly 70-year old patent, which depicts the use of a technological marvel we’ve all come to know as the Slinky

My interest in the Slinky stems from the work of Harvard trained scientist Donella (Dana) Meadows, who helped me see leadership in a whole new way.


  1. Perch a Slinky on your upturned palm.
  2. With the fingers of your free hand, grasp the Slinky from the top, partway down its coils.
  3. Now pull your bottom hand away quickly…
What happens? 
…the end of slinky drops and recoils like a bungee-cord, right?BUT what MADE the Slinky bungee up and down like that?
…if you think it all happened because you moved your hand, you’ve just made a critical leadership error!


Repeat the experiment, but this time replace the Slinky with the box it came in.

  1. Put the box in your upturned palm.
  2. Grasp the top of the box with the fingers of your free hand.
  3. Quickly remove your palm from under the box.
What happens?
…Nothing.THE POINT
The motion of the hands (your leadership efforts and your employee’s efforts to support you) mean little, if they don’t align with the nature of the system….

A Slinky’s got to be a Slinky and a Box has to act like a Box.

Organizational performance comes from the alignment of leaders and followers, working together in the right system.

How to get there?

  • Everything hinges on aligning leaders and employees, if you do that
  • You’ll earn the right to be wrong, because if you and your employees are aligned and you fail, you’ll receive rapid and unambiguous feedback, but
  • Leaders that act without employee alignment will never know, “Is it them or is it me?” and in all such cases, the answer is it’s you

Slinky or Box, so long as your system isn’t a Sacred Cow, you’ll have the opportunity to unleash the untapped leadership potential that exists in your organization right now!  

Wake up leaders, it’s time to lead!

And thanks for the picture mom…

Until next time, I welcome your stories, comments and ideas directly at

Stay connected,


Meadows, Donella H. (2008-12-03). Thinking in Systems: A Primer (Kindle Locations 178-190). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.