Duct Tape Leadership



Ever been to one of those retreats where the flip chart that holds our “top 10 opportunities” or our new “mission statement” keeps falling off the sound-insulated hotel room wall?  Ever go back to work and watch the same “exciting” ideas glance off people like a puck hitting a goal post?

I handed the book Made to Stick around the table at a meeting to show off its orange dust cover.  The strip of duct tape on the cover may have grabbed your eye if you saw the book at Borders, Barnes and Noble, or your local independent.  As I passed it around, every single handler tried to find a loose corner to peel the shiny, slightly bumpy duct tape off the cover.  It was impossible.  Because the cover is the work of a master design and print team:  The gray color perfectly matches real tape, the texture shines just right, and the tape part of paper is raised from the rest of the paper cover so it looks and feels like real.  The cover catches your attention.  The theme of Dan and Chip Heath’s book holds your attention:  In leadership we’re always trying to move people, but we can almost always do a better job of crafting messages that stick like duct tape.

So often, ideas stick like masking taped flip chart pages falling from the wall – if they hold that well.  The reason is our perceptions are over-stimulated and our memories are totally over-loaded.  Can I ask you for a minute this morning to consider the “audience” that you are most trying to engage and influence as you lead?  Perhaps it’s moving your manager.  Perhaps your team.  Perhaps your teenager, or aging parent.  Maybe you are trying to move your neighbors or school students.  Well, do you have a “sticky message” in play?  If you do, they’ll get it. They’ll have it; it’ll hold to their imagination and intention, like duct tape holds to a nice dry wall.

The Heaths offer marvelous examples of messages that have stuck – from getting “Bubba’s” in Texas to stop littering, to inducing teenagers to quit smoking, to getting McDonald’s customers to ask, “Where’s the beef?”  They have me thinking differently about a sticky message for my next book, about ways to get our kids to value a clean room, and about how Jennifer can speak in a stickier way about adjusting to our new economy.

I’ve played in this email with a couple of their key points.  Be concrete.  Be a little unexpected.  Tell a story.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Chip Heath on my show last week; listen here for the 40-minute interview on iTunes.  Pick up Made to Stick or read Dan and Chip’s column monthly in Fast Company.  Get sticky with your message(s) to

Lead with your best self!


Audio – Duct Tape Leadership