The Propeller Model: Use Effective Leadership and You Won't Crash and Burn

By Alex Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP May 31, 2016
Reuse Permissions

Last week I spent a day at a famous office building in San Francisco, in the company of 64 thought leaders and chief human resource officers, looking into the future of HR. While my daughters would argue that the only benefit of being there was the ability to tweet from Twitter headquarters, I benefited from listening to valuable insights offered by people in the know. Several teams described their tools and concepts under development, designed to achieve the dream of positioning HR as an über-influencer on enterprise success.

I left the symposium realizing that the future of HR, while somewhat nebulous, is in good hands with futurists like Ian Ziskin and John Boudreau. I also realized that, over the course of eight hours, almost no one mentioned leadership.

Consider the role of leadership. It's an integral part of driving success for almost any venture. Whether you're scaling a mountain or shifting organizational strategy, you need to demonstrate effective leadership. In fact, the most effective organizations leverage their leadership to build momentum.

I liken this to an airplane propeller, the kind you see in old aviation films. The pilot has to pull the propeller so that it accelerates to a critical velocity, which will drive the plane forward. An untethered propeller spins freely, enabling takeoff. A tethered propeller experiences drag, and is likely to fail … possibly resulting in a crash-and-burn scenario.

As an HR professional, you can be the pilot of your organization. Jump-starting organizational effectiveness is in your hands. How much force is necessary is a function of the leadership behaviors you bring to the situation. Each effective leadership behavior helps you spin the propeller faster. Each ineffective behavior is a tether that creates friction and drag.

Which leadership behaviors are most important for ensuring a healthy spin for your organizational propeller? To jump-start effectiveness, leaders at the most effective organizations usually perform three functions: 

  1. They set agile strategies. These leaders leap at opportunities and focus their efforts. They rarely suffer from "paralysis by analysis." They move quickly when presented with change. They don't fight change through inactivity, preferring to risk being wrong over being dead in the water. 
  2. They build data-driven plans. Effective leaders are agile, but they don't simply consume data and run willy-nilly. They use data to build plans for achieving an informed objective. Their organizations eschew tethers and avoid drag by using all available data to push strategic planning. 
  3. They demand more from the team. Leaders at the most effective organizations don't rest on their laurels. They're powered by the urge to shift to the next gear. These leaders demand more by driving ahead. While there's a risk of burnout, their teams, taught properly, learn to innovate. 

All organizations want to drive effectiveness, but few leverage the leadership power to do it. Some organizations, in fact, leverage ineffective leadership, slowing progress. It's as if they're bumping their collective heads into an old airplane propeller at an aviation museum.

How do you leverage leadership in your organization to build momentum and enable takeoff? How many hands are you using to spin your organization's modern-day propeller of effectiveness?

Alex Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, is senior vice president of knowledge development for SHRM.

Reuse Permissions


HR Education in a City Near You

Find a Seminar

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 3,200 companies

Search & Connect