Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Silly Putty Leadership

Guest post by Great Leadership monthly contributor Beth Armknecht Miller: 

This month marks the 61st anniversary of Silly Putty being patented. And for many of us over the age of 40, Silly Putty holds special memories for its multi- functional properties. So what do Silly Putty and Leadership have in common? Actually you’ll be surprised because both of them can bounce, stretch, and transform; all skills that effective leaders master over time! At the same time, Silly Putty can break.


One of the things I remember about Silly Putty is its ability to bounce when rolled into a circular object.  As leaders, we have to bounce back all the time. Leadership doesn’t come without its set backs whether it is a change in market conditions that impact product sales, a hurricane, tornado or other natural disaster, or a sudden loss of a major client. 
A leader’s resiliency and ability to bounce back under pressure and during difficult times is a recipe for success. Your approach to difficult times and situations will resonate throughout an organization. 

I witnessed this with a client of mine recently. He leads a professional services organization where his people are his major asset. Without any warning, his key producer left with several other employees who had been responsible for a big percent of his revenue stream. His calm approach to the situation in the months that followed not only kept the remaining employees confident in him and the future but also provided him with the ability to be creative in solving the challenges ahead of him.

How do you bounce back under pressure? What are your employees saying about you during difficult times? 


The second property that Sill Putty displays is the ability to stretch. Leaders who challenge themselves on a regular and consistent basis stretch and develop into better and more effective leaders.

Stretching can include restoring a broken business relationship either externally or internally to the organization, making a difficult financial, operational, or strategic decision, taking a path where success is not a guarantee, or having a crucial conversation. For others it can be showing vulnerability and their true self. What ever it is, every leader, if self aware, knows what that stretch would look and feel like to them.

As a leader, what have you done recently that has stretched and challenged you?  


Remember taking Silly Putty and pressing it on to a newspaper comic and then stretching the image? Unfortunately children of today can’t experience this because of the change in newspaper ink.

Just like the image being stretched, a leader needs to be stretching and developing their employees if they want to develop their bench strength and retain A players. Your talent is your future and just like your need to develop and stretch, employees require it as well.

What are you doing each day to develop your talent and help them transform into great, engaged employees?


And lets not forget that in certain circumstances, Silly Putty can break if it is submitted to a sharp blow. What are those “sharp blows” that have the potential to get you off track? These are behaviors that in most circumstances you can control and keep hidden but will be seen by others when you are under extreme pressure and stress.

Great leaders understand the circumstances that set them off and have learned how to manage and control their bad behaviors through stressful times. Having self-awareness and managing your behaviors to bring out the best in others will set you apart from many of your peers.

As a leader, are you practicing the positive qualities of Silly Putty: Bounce, Stretch and Transform? And how are you managing your behaviors and emotions so you don’t break as a leader?

Beth Armknecht Miller’s is CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. Beth is a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer. She is a graduate of Babson College and Harvard Business School’s OPM program. She is certified in Myers Briggs, Hogan, and Business DNA. And she is a Certified Managerial Consultant. Beth’s insight and expertise has made her a sought-after speaker, and she has been featured in numerous industry blogs and publications. To learn more about Beth visit or

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