I will venture to say that in some aspect of our lives, each of us is a leader. Whether in our family, job, home business, community, church…somewhere, in some role, you are a leader. While there are many leadership skills that should be constantly developed, the most important are having a vision, communicating your vision, and aligning your team members with that vision.
We have a little tradition in our home. Around the holidays we like to get a jigsaw puzzle out and spend time as a family working on the puzzle. A wonderful thing about a jigsaw puzzle is that it brings people together. (If you want to spend quality and quantity time with your family, turn off the TV and put a jigsaw puzzle on a card table right in the middle of your family room. Then watch what happens.)
If you think about the last time you worked on a jigsaw puzzle, what are some of the unwritten rules that you followed? I’m certain that many will come to your mind. Turn all the pieces right side up. Start with the outside pieces. Sort the pieces by color. Etc.
But what is the most important rule? It is to keep a close eye on the box top picture.
If you dump out all the pieces and get rid of the box, you are going to have a difficult time. You will have a pile of puzzle pieces, but you won’t know how they are all supposed to fit together.
One time I switched the box on my family. I know, I know. It was a rotten trick.
The puzzle pieces were from a picture with a nice blue sky at the top. The box that I found was a seascape, so all the blue was on the bottom.
I could feel the frustration in the air as my kids tried to put the pieces together. Of course, I’d look at the real box and come along every now and then and put a few pieces together. My kids were completely confused. “How did you get the blue at the top, that can’t be right!” But this just reinforces the point of how important that box with the picture is.
As a leader, you are the box-top painter. You are painting the box top for your people. You’ve got to provide the picture – the view of what you are creating or where you are going – and that means you need to have a clear vision of the picture yourself. Painting the picture for your team is a primary leadership skill.
Think about the jigsaw puzzle again. Have you ever gotten to the end of the puzzle and a couple of the pieces were missing? Every piece counts. Not only are you the box-top painter, but you and every one on your team is a piece of the puzzle, and every one of you works together to complete the picture. As a leader, you must know that every piece counts.
Think about a single piece of your puzzle. One piece. It’s got colors and a unique shape. If it is put into the right place in the puzzle, it fits. Perfectly. Precisely. If you try to force a piece into the wrong spot in the puzzle, it won’t look right, it won’t fit right, and you may even damage the piece. Each person on your team has strengths and weaknesses. Each is unique. A leader understands this and looks for the right fit for each person on the team to contribute toward your vision.
How about those other unwritten rules of working on a jigsaw puzzle?
Start with the edges: Like the leaders in your organization, they are easy to spot compared to the other pieces…if you are looking for them. When assembled together, they provide a complete structure around the vision that you have painted for the team. These pieces are easy to spot because of the straight edge on one side. You will spot your leaders because they have discipline and drive, they communicate and provide the boundaries for your vision, and they supply a starting point and motivation to make your vision come alive.
Turn all the pieces right side up: As a leader, you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Each needs to be trained and aligned with the goals and vision for your team.
The jigsaw puzzle analogy to leadership can go on and on. Which analogies do you see? I want to know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leaders are not created overnight. Becoming an effective leader takes considerable time and effort to develop the necessary skills and abilities. Team members need leadership to show them direction and to motivate and to inspire them to perform at their best. As leaders, we have great influence on the success or failure of our team members. Remember, you are a leader. We all need to take that role seriously, and regardless of our experience or success in leadership, we should always be working to further develop our skills. I suggest we start with becoming a better box-top painter.
Scott Smith is President of InfoTrax, a software and consulting company in the direct sales multi-level marketing industry. Scott has over two decades of experience in executive management of information technology and network marketing. He has worked as senior vice president, global CIO and general manager of a large network marketing company. Scott holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Business Administration degree from Brigham Young University.