The other day I was watching my six year old daughter color a picture of one of the Disney Princesses. She was working diligently to get different colors on the page, trying to create…or re-create an image that she could then present, with pride to me. As I watched, I couldn’t help myself. A couple of times, I leaned over and whispered that maybe she should stay inside the lines. In fact, I even darkened the lines so she would have a better chance to “see” the lines. She finally leaned back over and said (without a whisper), “Dad, I’m just trying to make something for YOU!”
As a dad, I wanted her to stay inside the lines because that is what we think “coloring” should be about. The perfect shades…the perfect texture all going in the same pattern with the appropriate colors depicting what we believe should be interpreted. But am I allowing her to change things? Do the shades and patterns and textures have to be what I would want or think should be right? What if she has her own interpretation? What if her interpretation is better?
Leaders face the same issue all of the time, but it’s not about coloring a picture. Fear of change keeps leader inside the lines way too often. Maybe not at first. Sometimes changed is forced and required for survival. But after that period of time, leaders can sink into a mode in which “coloring within the lines” is safe and expected. For corporate leaders that have to constantly worry about quarterly profits and forecasts, change may involve a change in jobs..namely the leaders, so playing it safe and inside the lines is the normal course of action. But those who have been coloring outside the lines, like Apple and IDEO, have seen growth, creativity, innovation and disruption and we are better for it.
Leaders have to lead…they must facilitate and push for strategic change, change that pushes the envelope of what their industry is about and how they conduct business. There is no reason to stay inside the lines…not for my daughter and certainly not for leaders.
Now GO Lead!