How A Leader Needs To Think Like A Plumber (No Wrench Required)

CB033445Sometimes a leader needs to think like a plumber.

Yep, a plumber.

How so?   Think about pressure for a minute.  A plumber deals with pressure all the time – in their case, water pressure.

How it is controlled and directed is critical to the overall performance of a water circulation system, especially when heated water is involved.

Consequently, plumbers know all about safety valves and their benefits when the pressure gets too high.

And that’s where a leader can learn a lot from a plumber.

Leaders deal with pressure all the time – both externally and internally.  This pressure can generate much “overheated” energy, and get to the boiling point of anger.

That’s where a safety valve is needed- something that can easily and effectively “release” the pressure without causing any harm.

When it comes to your teammates, that safety valve is you.   You must provide an safe outlet to release that pressure.   Teammates must feel comfortable walking into your office, or calling you on the phone, to express their anger or frustration.

And you must be able to patiently listen to this pressure release, and not funnel it to any other dangerous place, or worse yet,  go the opposite direction and build the pressure up to the point of an explosion. It must dissipate harmlessly, so any underlying issues can be dealt with calmly and rationally.

It’s a leader facing reality – and understanding the personalities of everyone on the team.   Everybody gets unhappy with something at one point or another.  The key to successfully handling this unhappiness is to make sure it gets directed at you, rather than spread like a virus around you.

Put it this way – wouldn’t you rather take the time to listen to someone vent to you, rather than have that person continue to build unreleased anger and resentment, which undoubtedly could “leak” out to other teammates and create mass disharmony and a decrease in team effectiveness?

I know it takes a lot of patience to be a safety valve – but in the end, it pays off.  Encourage your teammates to speak to you FIRST any time the pressure is too great, and their anger has built up.   When they do call to vent, listen attentively (hopefully you’ve gone through my “Virtual Q-Tip” exercise).   9 times out of 10, the release will be all they need – and the valve will have done its job.

Occasionally,  the anger and pressure is so great that you can’t reduce it enough – and that’s when you have to move beyond merely acting as a valve by transitioning to a teacher and counselor.

I’ve learned this the hard way over my many years in the business world, especially when I didn’t have a safety valve manager of my own.

Unchecked and unreleased anger can be a killer to any organization, but think like a plumber, and you’ll be just fine.

And you don’t even need a wrench.


  1. says

    Terry, what a great post with great advice.

    One of my learnings as a “pressure valve” in the corporate world when someone was venting was to ask “What would you like me to do?” in a neutral tone, and with great care. Often I found that the answer was “just listen”. And so I did. Often, listening was all that was needed.

  2. Amy Carrier says

    Better to listen to them vent and deal with one situation than have a mass mutiny on your hands. Good advice.

  3. Fredda Kermes says

    Great advice! Listening is such an essential skill. People need to feel safe in expressing their concerns and emotions. It seems that this simple skill can sometimes be overlooked and this lack of acknowledgement of concern can escalate into a bigger and more destructive conflict. Great analogy for being a pressure release valve.

  4. Briantheplumber says

    As a plumber I read this and say that not only is this true with the actual work that we do, but also it’s true with how we deal with customers. You have to be able to listen and have safeties to help you with all situations that arise in any workplace.


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