Message from Julie: Are You Letting Your Team Color Outside the Lines?

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During class last week, my yoga teacher told a story about her two grandsons. The oldest didn’t want to share his coloring book with his younger brother because his brother wouldn’t color inside the lines, and it would look messy.

She likened this to what we so often do in our daily lives as adults, when we stay inside our (not always so comfortable) comfort zones and restrict ourselves to living within self-imposed lines. As leaders we often impose those “lines” not only on ourselves but on our teams as well.

These invisible lines are based on beliefs about how things should be. We draw them based on our subjective view of reality and then try to impose our picture onto others, including those we lead. The lines are based on beliefs they are often rooted deeply in our being. This makes it not only difficult for us to color outside the lines but also makes it difficult for us to allow (let alone encourage) others to color outside our lines.

The costs of failing to color outside the lines and encouraging our teams to do so as well are great: Disengaged employees, an inability to recruit top talent, high turnover, lowered productivity, lack of innovation and ultimately business viability. Think Block Buster and Kodak – only two of many organizations that failed to allow their employees to color outside the lines.

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Too often it takes a crisis for us to begin to change our beliefs and erase our deeply grooved lines. We saw this with the pandemic. My colleagues and I were forced to face long-held beliefs about what could and couldn’t be accomplished in a virtual classroom. CEOs and business leaders who had staunchly held that their organizations must maintain large offices, and everyone needed to work from the office to maintain their culture and ensure productivity were forced to examine those beliefs. These lines and many others have been permanently redrawn as a result of the pandemic.

The question is: How do we not only allow but encourage ourselves and our team members to color outside the lines in the absence of a crisis?

Seeing the Lines

To color outside the lines, we must first be able to “see” the lines that are restricting us and our organizations. Not an easy task given they are invisible to us. Our lines are like water to a fish. There are though some clues if we know where to look. Start by noticing every time you use the word “should” in relation to yourself or others. Should is almost always a word that could indicate an invisible line.

Another clue to look for is when we are judging ourselves or others. I see this often in organizations where different generations overlay their lines on each other and then evaluate not only performance, but character based on these lines. It sounds like, “Millennials are whiney, narcissistic, and lack motivation.” Or, “Baby Boomers are out of touch with reality.”

“We’ve always done it this way” is also a clue that we may be coloring and trying to get others to color within the lines.

Coloring Outside the Lines

Here are three actions you can take to begin to erase and redraw the invisible lines.

  1. Change your routine: Shake things up a little bit personally and professionally. Drive a different route. Take a different exercise class or with a different instructor. Take your laptop and work in a different location. Encourage your team to do the same. Mix up where people sit during meetings. Ask the people who rarely speak to provide their input before getting input from those who are more vocal. Put the opposite leg of your pants on first. Let your team try a new way of doing something even if you are convinced it’s not going to work.
  2. Question judgements and assumptions: When you find yourself making a judgement or proclaiming a “should” ask yourself these questions: “Is it really true?” “What else could be true?” “How important is this really? Will it matter in five hours, five days, five weeks, five months, or five years?
  3. Go on Artist Dates: In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advocates what she calls Artist Dates to unlock creativity. She describes Artist Dates as “a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you”. An artist date could be anything from finger painting to a walk in the woods or visit to a museum. Give your staff members work time to take artist dates as well. And while Cameron defines an Artist Date as a solo experience you might try doing an artist date periodically as a team.

Grab a coloring book and start coloring… outside the lines.

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POSTED ON: Leadership