I had dinner with my brother and his family the other day. At the restaurant, his son the kindergartner, is coloring with crayons. He is trying like crazy to color inside the lines, his tongue is sticking out with maximum concentration.
Bruce leans over to him and says "way to color within the lines!"
I immediately react. "What the heck, Bruce! You don't want him to grow up to think he always has to 'color between the lines; what's wrong with expressing oneself and going against the grain?'"
Bruce looked at me, said "I know, but he is so proud. I want to encourage him."
And as I have been thinking of that moment, I come to the realization that of course Bruce is right. Across several dimensions. First, in every occasion we can choose which message we want to deliver - this was an opportunity to encourage. Second, just because he draws within the lines one time doesn't mean the creative gene won't be there the next (in other words, maybe he is better at managing or dealing with ambiguity than me!). Third, there is a time and place for everything - sometimes we have to color between the lines or things go horribly wrong.
When I work with people on leadership styles, we talk a lot about our dominant styles, our predispositions - some people are very fact-based, detail oriented. I for one, don't lean that way. I have a high degree of action-orientation and urgency. Knowing that, I know I need to surround myself with team-members who are more patient, more deliberate in their approach to problems and opportunities. I need some people on my team that tell me when I am coloring too far out of the lines.
At the end of the day, we have to learn to adjust. To be creative when that matters. To stick to the script, when that is called for. After all its not whether we like to color in or outside of the lines that matters; it is more about assuring we are not one-dimensional in how we approach each other and opportunities.
Having said that, once in a while, find time to jolt the system, to draw outside those lines just because!
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