Leadership HACKS: The 1 ft Fence

How Van Halen and Brown M&M's Changed the Leadership game.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

When the rock band Van Halen toured the USA in the 1980’s, their production was the largest Rock and Roll show on tour. Over 850 lights, tonnes of equipment and staging. It was a huge production.

Buried in the contractual requirements – “the rider” – within all the things to do with food and drinks supposed to be backstage in the dressing room was this line:


The M&M’s are a 1ft fence.

Van Halen didn’t hate brown M&M’s – It was a quick and simple check to see if the host venue had read all of the contract or not.

Brown M&M’s were not an issue of life and death, but the weight of the equipment could have been if a stage failed.

In one particular instance, in Colorado, the host promoters didn’t read the contract – there were brown M&M’s on the table – and the Van Halen road crew knew they needed to double-check everything. Turns out the weight of the stage caused it to sink through the flooring, and cause over $80K in damage.

A 1ft fence is a trigger that helps us gauge where people are at as we delegate.

The trigger helps us know if people can handle responsibility. It also helps us know if we can avoid larger issues later down the line.

As we increase our leadership influence journey – we’ll find we don’t always trust everyone at the same level. We see people in the same roles at different levels.

It could be because of training.
It could be because of how long they’ve spent with our company.
It could be because of how complicated the task we’re delegating to them is.

A 1ft fence is easy to get over. At the same time, if you’re not watching where you’re going, it’s easy to fall over it too!

A 1ft fence is a trigger. A mini-test.

As leaders, it’s not for us to use and say “Haha, I caught you out!” but rather to help us know maybe where people are at.

I know of a large organization with hundreds of staff and volunteers who use a retreat camp weekend as a 1ft fence. If people want to step up into more senior roles, they’re invited on a camping trip. The CEO watches to see “Who’s volunteering?” “Who’s gathering firewood and who’s just sitting by the fire?”

What the CEO really watches to see is “Are these the type of people I could delegate responsibility and authority to? Will they serve with our values?”

A 1ft fence could be watching to see who comes ready to get working. Does anyone take out the rubbish voluntarily? It’s will not ruin the business if it’s not done, but it’s also going to reveal something about those who take responsibility.

How could a 1ft fence help change your leadership this week?

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


The Question of Mortality: It’s a Necessary Conversation

by Nancy Sharp

The Starting Point: Filling the Emptiness in the Days of COVID-19

by Amy Florian
jayk7/Getty Images

19 Head-scratching Questions Bosses Have Actually Asked at Job Interviews

by Shana Lebowitz

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.