Spiders are amazing creatures, though they may also be annoying. Five minutes after I passed through the door to my garage, I needed to return into the house for something. As I was passing through the door, a cobweb caught my face. Within five minutes, an (industrious and invisible) spider had navigated my personal space!
Consider what I call my spider-web theory of leadership. A spider’s web is an amazing phenomenon. Its construction and shape are remarkable. Its strength is even more remarkable. There is no part of the web that the spider has not touched. A leader should be in touch with every part of the organization he or she leads. It doesn’t mean that he or she should be everywhere and have a hands-on approach towards every part of the organization. If it is a small organization, the leader could be present in every part; hands-on then would be at his/her discretion.
Although the analogy fails at the point where we acknowledge that a spider’s web flows out from a spider (we are not suggesting the comparison that an organization flows out of a leader), we nevertheless argue that a leader should have a meaningful feel of what is going on at the ground in the organization, and that he or she should want to be in touch with the whole organization, whether by doing “management by wandering around,” or through effective representatives, reports, liaisons, collegiality, and partnerships within the organization.
If an organization’s structure is one of those top-down constructs that makes the leader touch only the person, persons or sections immediately below him or her, and he or she follows that slavishly, then that, already, is a form of self-deception that would do in the leader sooner or later. Depending on the organization’s size, the leader could not be expected to know every partner-member’s name, or much about them. But — just as a spider’s web is intimately related to the spider, a leader should seek to develop a certain esteem of and care for, if not bond with, the organization’s people.
The more a leader traverses the whole “web” of her organization the more that web actually finds an increased chance of becoming stronger. On the other hand, the more the leader insulates and isolates himself, the weaker the “web” becomes, or is never spun! Indeed, a leader is more susceptible to self-deception, or inflated or otherwise inaccurate self-judgment, when that leader is detached from the organization’s people and their real concerns.
Of course, there is a reason a spider weaves a web: it is with its ultimate mission in mind: catching its food, with the fringe benefit of travel. Leaders should constantly work towards enabling their organizations to become intricately woven groups of people in harmonious partnership, in which there is incredible strength, and out of which their meaningful and beneficial objectives are accomplished.
 Gill, Theory, 84.
 For an interesting take on self-deception and leadership, as well as on leaders’ impact on their entire organization, see Leadership and Self-Deception, by the Arbinger Institute.
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Michael Friday is an organizational leadership specialist, working through Transition Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA. He is author of And Lead Us Not Into Dysfunction.