A snowploughing leader: The kind every organisation wants

Snowploughing leadership is all about leading by example, clearing all possible hurdles for the team to follow and continue work uninterrupted. Does your organisation boast of such leaders?


It isn’t rare to find a lesson or two at the unlikeliest of places. A couple of days back, I was on my zillionth re-reading of an Asterix comic book when I came across a panel that got me thinking. If you are as big an Asterix fan as I am, pick up a copy of ‘Asterix and the Big Fight’ and spend some time on the part where Gallo-Roman chief Cassius Ceramix (by far, my favourite pun in the world but more on that later) challenges Gaul chief Vitalstatistix.

You will come across this:

This is what got me thinking. A rather funny segment in the tale, if you’re familiar with it, and an important comment on teamwork and leadership if you will. A leader is only as good as the team and vice versa. As much as responsible delegation becomes an important part of leadership, leading by example is just as critical. You can draw either inference or both from this comic panel.

Add to this a term I came across recently – Snowplough Leadership. A simple, yet very crucial concept, that means nothing but to clear roadblocks out of the way of your team so that they can work smoothly. Executive coach, Nick Robinson calls Snowplough Leadership one of his favourite leadership concepts.

He says, “Snowplough leadership is the simple idea that, as a leader, your main job is to:

1. Shovel stuff out of the way of your team, so that they can get on and do what they need to do; and

2. Make sure they’ve got enough grip on the road to move safely and swiftly to where they need to get to.”

A simple idea indeed, but it cannot be overstated how critical leading by example becomes in a workplace. The team always looks up to the leader for answers. The leader is the problem solver. At the same time, a team is perhaps most motivated when it sees the leader joining in to get his hands dirty. Delegation is great, but showing how it’s done before delegating and clearing initial hurdles in the process is better.

The dictionary defines a ‘snowplough’ as ‘an implement or vehicle for clearing roads of thick snow by pushing it aside.’ Robinson likens hurdles, doubts, problems to snow, and clearing of those very obstructions as snowploughing, making it a memorable metaphor.

A noteworthy example comes from the world of sports. English football club, Liverpool and Italian club AC Milan, were facing each other in the final match of the 2005 UEFA Champions League. Massive underdogs, the former were up against the tournament favourites. It was barely any surprise when Liverpool went down 3 – 0 at halftime and was written off. At the 54th minute, captain Steven Gerrard found the back of the net and led a dramatic comeback for the team to level the scores in the next six minutes. Liverpool eventually won the game and the European Cup after a penalty shootout. The captain paved the way, the team followed in a match widely hailed as one of the greatest in the tournament’s history.

“A snowplough leadership team is often created by an influential and thought-provoked leader who has both authority and experience to manage in the workplace, and clear the obstacles out of the way for the team to deliver their best work,” notes Vishal Chhatralia, vice-president, digital marketing, RS Components in his article on the subject in the HRZone.

It is not uncommon for fatigue to settle in a team that hits a roadblock and finds it difficult to look for answers and move ahead. The repercussions are severe as work hits a standstill. It is then for the leader to take up the challenge, and not just motivate by words but by action.

If as a leader, you aren’t standing up to take the first hit, you’re probably not doing it right. Snowploughing can help leaders instil trust in the team, be motivated and engaged, realise it is alright to fail but not to stop. It is a popular truth that ‘People don’t leave jobs but managers’. A manager who isn’t equipped with a shovel to clear the path ahead is most likely to find himself alone sooner than later.

Snowploughing may eventually be a term given to what is essentially the most key and the oldest value of leadership, but it is a luxury every team wants to and must afford. The opposite of this only will lead to mismanagement, a less-than-motivated team, underproductivity, and unprofessionalism. Absolutely nothing like that team member who goes home at the end of the day thinking, “It’s going to be alright. The boss has my back.”

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