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?