Coloring Outside the Lines
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in kindergarten. Mrs. Carlton, our teacher, gave us an assignment. She gave us a piece of paper with two columns of rectangular boxes. Inside each box were drawings of 6 objects, three objects on the left side of the box, the other three objects on the right side of the box. The objects were simple line drawings, things like a beach ball, a dog, a doll, a truck, etc. The objects on the left were the same as the objects on the right, the only difference being the order they were in. Many of the objects appeared in more than one box. Mrs. Carlton’s instructions were to draw a line to connect objects that were the same. That is exactly what I did. I was very angry when I received my paper back with a “U” for a score (Unsatisfactory)! I hadn’t let the boarders of each box deter me, I drew a line that connected every beach ball, every truck, every dog on the entire page. I followed Mrs. Carlton’s instructions, but I had gone outside the lines, which Mrs. Carlton didn’t like. I am still ticked off about that!
I was reminded of that experience when I walked by a book store at the airport and saw a display of coloring books for adults. As you can see, I took a picture of the display. I had recently read about how psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala recommends the act of coloring in a coloring book as a means to ease stress. Dr. Ayala claims that the act of coloring and choosing the color of crayon or pencils you want to use engages your creativity and your fine motor skills. In addition, it distracts the part of the brain that invokes worry and stress, as well as takes us back in time to our childhood, an emotional boost.
I’m not sure if coloring is essential for effective leadership, but it might be worth trying. If you do, I would encourage you to color outside the lines at least part of the time.
When I was a Kid…
By Bill Auxier, Ph.D.
You had a controlling mother, which explains why you freeze up around authority figures. Your parents doted on you, that’s why you don’t concern yourself with the rules and do whatever you want. Your parents never said you were good enough, that’s why you constantly seek approval. Most psychologists contend that we can understand our current behavior by understanding our past. Understanding the past can be an excellent tool, but if you want to evolve and change for the better, understanding the past may not help, it depends on how you deal with it. The past cannot be changed. You can. Accept the past, learn from the past and move forward.
Living in the past is something that many of us do, myself included. The past lets us blame someone else for the stuff that goes wrong in our lives. If you ever catch yourself starting a sentence with, “When I was a kid…” or “When I was first starting out in this business…” or “If my old boss would have caught you doing that…” you just might be guilty of living in the past and using that as a crutch to blame short comings on.
Some use this same technique as a subtle form of bragging. “When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford a vacation, let alone going to Europe like we are.” Using the past to highlight our success is just as annoying as using the past to blame our failure.
Don’t live in the past, learn from it to become a more effective leader. Stop blaming others for choices you make that result in success or failure.
Take a Break!
Two guys are chopping wood with an axe. One guy is going non-stop, determined to finish the job. The other guy takes several breaks, taking a seat beneath a nearby shade tree, seemingly taking a nap at times. At the end of the day, the guy chopping wood non-stop became very frustrated when he realized that the guy who took naps had chopped more wood. When asked how he did it, nap-guy confessed that while it might have looked like he was napping, he was actually sharpening his axe. Abraham Lincoln used to love telling this story to make a point, and the moral of this story is still meaningful today. The truth is, to become more effective at anything, leadership included, you need to take breaks.
Anders Ericsson at Florida State University researched high-performing individuals and found that if you want to be a high-performer, you need to spend less time working on being one. Ericsson examined musicians, athletes and other high-performing individuals and found that those who excel at an elite level typically practice their craft uninterrupted no more than 90 minutes at a time. Elite producers begin in the morning, take a break, and rarely work more than 4 ½ hours. Ericsson concluded that you must prioritize your most important work to the time of day when you have the most energy and monitor your energy level.
Another study tracked employee productivity and found that the top 10% of the most productive employees did NOT work more hours that other employees. The most productive employees took 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked.
So how does this research make a leader more effective? If nothing else, it should encourage all leaders to take breaks throughout the day. Being an effective leader doesn’t mean that you have to log more hours than anyone else. Stop going pedal-to-the-metal from early to late. Take breaks during the day. During those breaks, sharpen your axe. Get out from behind your desk and strike up some casual conversations with others in the organization. Take a walk. Clean the bathroom. Visit a patient. I’m sure there are lots of ideas you can think of, the key is to do what high-performing leaders do, take a break!