How Big Is Your Stick?

picture of dog with stick in its mouth.

No, it’s not a stick that you physically hit yourself or other people with. It is the stick that you measure yourself or your business against. It is a measure of performance, but it is a lot more. It is expectation and also motivation. It will either draw forward participation, contribution and potential or curtail it. How you choose your stick makes all the difference.


Active Knowledge Question:

Can you describe your stick and how it lifts performance?


Pain Or Pleasure

If you had to provide a metaphor for, or a description of, the basket of tools that you use to draw forth performance, what would that be? 

Is it inviting and encouraging, or is it threatening and degrading?

Remember the old analogy of the carrot and the stick to motivate someone. It was always believed that you needed both to encourage someone to deliver their best effort. I’m not sure how many people still believe in that approach. However, you still see management articles speaking about the need to be able to ‘pull and push’ to achieve performance, which can readily be interpreted as the carrot and stick.

I worked for a global organisation in the 80s that saw the metaphoric stick as an instrument of inflicting emotional pain and a vital performance-enhancing tool. They no longer exist.

Some will say that people will put in a greater effort to avoid pain than they will to achieve pleasure. But when it comes to performance in business and achievement in life, there is a significant difference between someone striving to achieve a goal they believe in and someone simply doing what they have been told to do.

To be competitive, you want everyone to strive to achieve and draw upon their untapped talents and reserves to win.

Choosing Your Stick 

The use of the word stick can bring forth many images, some good and some bad. Some may see a stick as an instrument to hit something with. Others will think of strength and support, for example, those who enjoy hiking. And then you have those who are into whittling; well, they collect all sorts of sticks to draw out the creativity within them. Finally, an upheld stick can be a rallying point amongst a crowd, drawing people together and leading them forward.

How you choose and design your stick individually and in leadership will determine performance. So, you must choose carefully and understand how you will bring the greatest performance possible to the forefront.

How big your stick is, is the metaphor for its effectiveness in drawing and applying potential. The better your stick is in achieving this outcome then, the bigger you can say it is. So, it’s not about size; it’s about delivery. And performance should only ever be measured against potential. Achieving a target that reflects only 50% of the potential is not performance, it’s failure.

The competitive strength of a business rests in the combined talent and effort of every person working within and with a business. Performance is determined by competitive strength and measures how much of that potential has been mustered and applied in the right direction.

Great leaders only come about through their ability to draw contribution, participation, talent and effort to the forefront. They choose and design their sticks well as they recognise them as a tool for enablement, enablement of potential, theirs and others.


Your stick represents what you have drawn together to allow you to muster the greatest potential within you and your business to the forefront. It is your strength and a measure and enabler of performance.

It should allow you to unearth talents, develop courage, unlock imagination, ignite pride and create belonging. Try drawing an image of your stick as you reflect on each of the elements that will form its shape, size, texture and colour.

Hidden Talent

Everyone one of us has strengths and weaknesses. Things we are very good at and others at which we are at best average. Often we do not explore our talents and accept a lesser outcome than our potential.

There are many reasons why this may be so; here are a few:

  • We are and have been actively encouraged throughout our lives to not try, to not chase and to not seek to achieve. To do only what they have been asked to do.
  • To believe first in our own inability, not capability.
  • We have been burnt and have seen others burnt through failure and now hesitate.
  • Settling for average is often the path of least resistance and the compliant choice.
  • We simply do not have the self-confidence to try, and there is no one around us to encourage us forward.
  • Our obligation, duties and responsibilities as providers do not allow us to pursue what we would really like to do.
  • If you grow too tall, you will be cut down – tall poppy syndrome.
  • We lack imagination and the passion that it brings and simply do not know where to start.

Performance commences with a willingness and excitement to discover the hidden and untapped talents and then applying them to achieve enduring success.


Courage is a willingness to step forward into uncertain, unclear, and unknown areas that carry the possibility of failure. But it is only through courage that you will grow and bring your real potential to the forefront in achievement.

Courage can best be built by starting with small steps and then building to bigger steps. Confidence will come through both failure and success and allow you to compound your courage.


A willingness to break free from whatever restrictions you have placed around yourself. To explore and experiment. To be willing to try things that capture your interest. To see where your untapped talents may be and how you may invest in these to create opportunities for growth and success.


A simple self-pride in yourself and the work that you are doing. A smile in knowing that what you are doing is worthwhile and that it contributes to the well-being of others. In each small step that you are taking, you can see that you are advancing and building upon what has gone before.


You are not alone in your journey of growth and discovery. You are with others who are also on this journey and sharing in everyone’s progress – successes and failures. Uplifting, encouraging and supporting are the traits of this community.


Look at the drawing of your stick; can you see how these elements are represented?


Expectation is what brings life to your stick and creates meaning allowing you to unearth talents, develop courage, unlock imagination, ignite pride and create belonging.

What expectations do you set for yourself and for those whom you lead?

Expectations must always be focused on the catalysts of success and not the outcomes. Get the catalysts right, and the outcomes will be there. Strengthen the catalysts with the mantra ‘better every day’, and competitiveness will grow exponentially.

And always set expectation with stretch, well beyond what is readily achievable.


Motive creates the energy to build movement and momentum.

There are right and wrong motives. Right motives magnify and compound competitive strength, whereas the wrong motive disperses and neutralises it.

Self-interest is the wrong motive. Competing to bring your very best to the forefront is the right motive. 

Encouragement seeds and supports the right motive. Fear weakens potential and seeds self-interest and the wrong motive.

Hold your stick up high. Does it draw enthusiasm, passion and commitment? And a desire to participate and belong?


Performance is gained and potential released by drawing people together and forward in the pursuit of worthy (righteous) goals. Your approach to performance (the stick you hold) must be the tool, the symbol, that achieves this unity and momentum.


An entirely new level of performance.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel