Too many cupsAs a lead partner in Eskil, I spend a lot of time meeting with business leaders to discuss entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and leadership development.

What I see as a common leadership issue is ‘too many cups’.

The principle is simple: take a look in your kitchen and count up how many teacups / coffee cups you have. At a guess, do you have twice as many cups as there are adults in your household? If you live alone, do you have more than two cups? Do you have three? Four?

How about if there are three adults in your household? Six cups? Seven? Eight?

As I write this article, I went and counted in our cupboards. For a house with two adults, we have eleven cups.


So is there a problem in having so many cups?

Well, that’s the next question: do you always wash the cup you use, dry it and put it away after using it… or does that cup go into the dishwasher / sink and, when you want another drink, you hunt down another cup?

Or maybe you swill out the cup before using it again? Or maybe you do what a client of mine does and you put it in the dishwasher but only use the dishwasher overnight (once a day) – now that must use up some cups!

One thing that can happen over time is that, suddenly, there are no cups available: they are all either stacked in the sink, waiting to be washed in the dishwasher or even located at various places around the house.

Fundamentally, knowing that you (may) have so many cups spare can lead to you almost taking their presence for granted until, before you know it, there are no more cups.

So let’s flip it: how do you think you would deal with one cup per adult in the house? Knowing that you only have one cup each, do you take a little extra care in how they are cleaned and stored?

Do you care if a cup is broken, bearing in mind that you only have one per adult in the house?

[pullquote]”the current abundance of choice often leads to depression and feelings of loneliness” (Barry Schwartz)[/pullquote]Does the thought of there being surplus cups in the house lead you to thinking that there is either an unlimited supply or that it won’t matter if one goes missing?

And this is where we see ‘too many cups’ in the leadership suite – too many projects; too many managers; too many team members… too many clients, maybe?

We could take this onto a grander scale – how many of the organizations paying high rents in big cities actually need to be in high-rent areas? Are the surplus offices simply corporate coffee cups? Does owner-vanity mean that employees need to work longer hours to generate higher revenue just to pay the bills?

Qatar UniversityI first ran workshops on ‘simplicity’ back in 2011 with delegates from Qatar University – a brilliant organization with a lot of highly self-aware employees who recognized the need to simplify in the workplace. During the course of the session which focused on corporate simplicity, people began talking about how to apply it in their day-to-day lives but also kept asking, “why don’t we do this already?”

Supported by Associates in the region, the one day program explored the obstacles to simplicity and how ‘simplicity’ doesn’t have to be simplistic – simplicity has to be relevant, effective, and customer-focused.

How often does an organization make the customer do all the work (possibly for the sake of the corporate coffee cup)?

Bearing in mind the coffee cup culture and the goal of simplicity, I work with leaders on ‘simple living‘ – a number of different voluntary practices to simplify the corporate lifestyle.

As part of the Eskil PlayMakers® leadership program led by Michelle Fogarty, Eskil has developed a model that not only includes Social Emotional Learning but also talking therapy, reflective thinking and mindfulness.

As we help the leader to evaluate self-limiting beliefs we also work with them to reflect upon minimalism (the public sector often quotes the phrase ‘doing more with less’ whereas it may be better quoted as ‘doing better with better’). [pullquote]”Don’t do more with less – do better with better!”[/pullquote]

Within the ‘peaceful mind’ aspect of Eskil PlayMakers®, we encourage leaders to consider reducing non-core, non-critical assets (whether this is a second smart phone or an entire team / department / division); reduction of client list (sacking bad customers that poison the organization); re-evaluating corporate vision and strategy; assessing employee culture, etc.

Fundamentally, as a leader, in their work and personal life, are they satisfied with what they have rather than want?

Yes, leaders have to be continually pushing for growth (increasing revenues, growing the profit) but what if this sacrifices innovation and corporate happiness?

Mindfulness in the leadership suite is certainly about emotional intelligence, collaborative intelligence and reflective thinking but it is also about doing better with better.

As a leader, or someone aspiring to develop leadership capabilities, ask yourself this, “am I feeling the stress of my pursuit and what kind of organization am I creating in the process?”

How many coffee cups do you have?

If you are interested in how to develop the PlayMakers in your organization, then contact Neil for an exploratory discussion.

Too Many Cups