The Leader Who Thrives: One Piece at a Time
My dad used to tell a story about a father who wanted to entertain his three-year-old son so that he could finish reading the newspaper. Finding a page in the paper that had been printed with a huge photo of the earth, the man took the page and cut it into several pieces. He gave the pieces to his son and told him to have fun putting the makeshift puzzle together. The man was sure it would take his son a while. In less than ten minutes the child gleefully called his father to see that he had completed the puzzle. The man was bewildered. This, he said, is a young boy, how could he possibly have gotten it done so quickly?
The man went into his son’s room convinced he would find an incomplete puzzle and pieces of the page strewn across the floor. He even put on his happy face. Afterall, he wanted to avoid giving the little boy the impression that he was disappointed in him. What he saw and then heard in the room obliterated any presumptions he held.
Sitting quietly with a huge smile stretched across his face, the man’s son sat in front of a fully assembled puzzle. The man’s happy face became a genuinely expression of pride, as he knelt for a closer look. Nothing was missing. Applauding, the man gave his son a confirming hug and said, “Wow, son! You finished! But Papa wants to know how it is you were able to do it so quickly?”
The little boy grinned, and then slowly turned each piece over. On the reverse side of the world picture was an equally large photo of a man. The little boy said, “Papa, if you put the man together in the right way, then the world will be put together right, too!”
Back in the day when I heard that story, it was so simple, that even I as a first grader understood its meaning. In current times, as a leader and one desiring greater awareness and broader learning, I see the story saying a lot about a leader’s mindset, possibly which mind-set we wish to cultivate and nurture versus another mind-set we may wish to let die on the vine.
It is a mind set that approaches with curiosity the inherent potential of next generation talent, gender, and age diverse, of ethnic and cultural plurality, with styles and approaches like the spectrum of light. What intellect, what innovation might that one person possess that you have yet to tap?
In what ways do preconceptions influence decisions? Are they based on observation or on ‘gut’?
Impactful leadership is for the courageous, and in today’s maze of complexity, this is even more true. Many bewail the malaise of disengaged people. Indeed, Gallup, Inc. in its 2017 report (State of the Global Workplace, p. 5), just 15% of the global employed population have any significant emotional affinity for their work or the places of employment.
In the rule of 80/20, to lay all 80% at the feet of leaders may feel irresponsible or unfair, for that malaise has many contributing factors. Yet leaders are charged to decide which strategies or tactics to pursue.
At first, I thought he was speaking of a colleague, after all, she was a ‘she.’ I turned to him and whispered her name. Without any change in his normal amicable expression, he said, “No. You!” After the bolt hit, I settled down and my brain engaged. I did not lose sight of the gaps, instead, I was convinced that I had strengths, and that someone else saw them as well.
To be surrounded by self-confident and highly capable people might be a wish granted by a benevolent genie. We could prefer a team comprised of people who care nothing about what anyone thinks of them and who have no worries about stretching beyond their perceived limits. Needless to say, we do not work in a utopia. Rather, there are people populating a broad spectrum of talents, having extreme highs and lows, and bunches in the middle.
What shall we say then? What if it were you whose photo was on the reverse side of a page with the photo of your organisation blazon across it? What can you learn about yourself and begin to put the puzzle back together, one piece at a time? Perhaps the following can help.
- Begin by gaining clarity as to what kind of leader you wish to be. In some cases, there are leadership models which define how a leader in a specific organisation should behave. In the absence of a model, take the steps to expose yourself to thought leaders on the topic and observe the behaviours of those you admire.
- When observing someone you admire, critically assess the broader impacts of the behaviour. Discard the aspects which are unnatural to you or which yield mixed outcomes. For example, I greatly appreciated one of my senior leaders’ style. She was quite keen in finding hidden risks or misses in analysis after design and before implementation. She believed that was how she best served her reports. Yet, much of her team wanted more of her insights and thoughts earlier in the process, thereby avoiding unnecessary delays and rework.
- Uncover the gaps between who you are and where you want to be as a leader. Take on a coach who can partner with you to discover the aspects which are unknown to you and then set a path to a more wholistic leadership set.
- Seek feedback from trusted colleagues or clients and check it against your vision. If you feel uncomfortable with someone internal to your organisation, find someone who is external.
- Be compassionate for yourself. Holding yourself accountable. Celebrate progress!
Until next time, Fran!