Massaging Leadership!


How many of you have had a massage lately?

(We must be back on the road; I’m talking about massages again.)


You are right away asking, “Ryan what does this have to do with leadership?”

I am going to ask you to, "keep reading!”


The 10-minute easy neck rub has its place, especially in airports when you are running from one flight to catch the next flight. At the other end of the spectrum is the 90-minute deep tissue massage: much more intentional and has the potential to be a game-changer.

After playing more than 1000 NHL games, coupled with multiple injuries, I really like massages. Jenn and I often set them up as part of our process to increase health.


After receiving a massage on our day off in Puerto Vallarta, where I am set to deliver a keynote to the highest performers of our great client Rifco… it hit me: The process of giving a massage is very much like the process of delivering effective leadership.


At the lower end of the massage therapist effectiveness scale is what Jenn and I like to call “just pushing the oil around.” I actually get very frustrated when this happens because I like a firm message and I often speak up and ask the therapist to increase the pressure and focus on my problem areas. “Pushing the oil around” leadership is similar. This is where the massage therapist and the leader either don’t know how to apply their trade (maybe they are just learning), or they don’t care. Either way I paid good money without receiving my desired return.


One of the hardest parts of paying for the massage is that you really don’t know what kind of therapist you are going to get. Jenn and I travel so much that we very seldom are in a position to ask for the same person who has delivered well during previous treatments. Actually, it’s hit-or-miss at this point. We sometimes try to have a couple’s massage together and at the end Jenn will ask “how was it?” My reply more often than not is: “Closer to pushing the oil around.”


Leadership is similar. The person can look like a a competent leader and they can have the credentials, but until you experience their process and their results, you cannot be sure what you are paying for.


After “pushing the oil around,” my next level of massage experience is what we call “found the problem, but gave no relief.” At this level the therapist seems to know what he or she is doing, but either doesn’t understand how to apply the remedy or isn’t capable or ready to apply enough pressure to fix this problem. Does this sound like a leader that you have experienced in the past?


In our experience, most people are very good at finding the problems and complaining about them (in our Thinking Tendencies Model – we call this Past Negative thinking coupled with a Future Negative focus), but seem to lack the expertise or the will to find and apply the solution.


Many leaders in this “found the problem but gave no relief” state have been burnt in the past by taking action and then receiving negative results or some blistering feedback. Mark Twain illuminates this Future Negative focus: “If a cat steps on a hot stove, that cat will never step on a hot stove again… the problem is that the cat will never step on a cold stove either.”

Many times ineffective leaders understand the remedies but won’t apply them because it’s always safer to do nothing or very little, than to get burnt again.


Back to our Massage-Leadership connection. With the “just pushing the oil around” experience, I want my money back. With the “found the problem but gave no relief” stage, I leave disappointed. Once in a while, after the massage, when Jenn asks me, “how was that?” I will reply with one word: “Awesome!”


When I use this word to describe the massage experience that I just received, here is what I really mean. The therapist was an expert in her/his field. You could