What LEGOS Can Teach Us About Leadership

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The start of a new year provokes meaningful reflection, if simply for the fact that one large measure of time has passed, and an equal measure now sprawls before us.

One question I always pause on is how will I be a better leader this year? How will such decisions effect my abilities as a husband? As a father? As a pastor, writer, creator and business owner? More simply, as a Christian?

Because I have three boys (who, in turn, have a father, who, in many ways, is still a boy), Christmas inevitably brings about new LEGO sets. These kits get strewn throughout the house, and every parent knows the agony of a 2×4 brick in the soft spot of the foot.

With their assembly comes a certain tact. I like to think of it as one of the spiritual gifts. But let’s at least agree that certain kits require more skill than others to put together. And as with most self-assembly toys, you can always count on stickers.

The cheeky devils.

I think the tendency with most adults is to let the child fumble along in the basic construction of the toy, until it comes to the application of the stickers. This is when even the most well-meaning, loving parent experiences an acute bought of OCD, and takes over.

Here’s the reasoning.

A misplaced LEGO brick can be undone and repositioned properly at any time, now or in the future. But a misplaced sticker? First, it never really does go back on as good the second time. A bum application means a tacky residue that attracts lint and fuzz (which totally defeats the purpose of a sleek and sexy vehicle, which ranks high in the psyche of every kid). And then there are the uneven edges. The lack of parallel lines and perpendicular right angles is enough to drive even the most sober parent to binge on some of Jamaica’s finest egg nog.

So we shove the kid aside, and graciously offer to do the stickers ourselves, assuring them that they’ll thank us in the future.

The problem is, they never do. Because they don’t care about the nuances of geometry and advanced design. And come to think of it, when it comes to playing, neither should I.

We make gross errors when we assume someone else holds to the same set of values that we do. And what’s more, that when a person is incapable of creating the same outcome that we can, we must take control.

While my child was eager to co-create an experience with me, I was obsessed with controlling a particular outcome.

And I missed the point.

The goal of playing is to care more about the shared experience than about the product. I know this because never once have any of my children stopped in the middle of an imaginary LEGO battle and said, “Hey, Dad, that ducted-fan grate sticker is on crooked. I don’t think we can play until we fix it.”

Stickers are a gateway drug. Or maybe they’re just a mirror in which we see our greater tendency to micromanage. If someone has less aptitude, inviting them to make mistakes under your care is not a sign of weakness, but of great strength. And it’s the only way they’ll learn.

So next time you’re building something with your kids, resist the overwhelming urge to take over the building process when the instructions call for stickers. Those misappropriated decals are badges of honor, a constant reminder that we’re growing as leaders and playing more when it counts.

Bring on the weird angles and dog-eared edges!

Happy New Year,

ch:

  • Tam-tam

    Wow! So challenges my leadership style! So thankful to have such thought provoking mentors and friends. Thanks CH! And here’s to a great New Year ๐Ÿ˜€

    • @Tam-Tam: You betcha! Glad it helps. You’re a great leader. And here’s to your New Year as well.

  • Daddy H

    Insightful as it is witty,son! So,whenever I step on a LEGO from now on,barefooted or not, I’ll remember your New Years Day 2014 leadership sermon. Thank you for helping me to “adjust” some more…!
    Well done!
    daddy

    • @Daddy: Ha – yes, you should.

      And there is a case to be made for parents setting the example for putting decals on. You were always (and still are) an expert; but I distinctly remember you teaching me how to add them to my models with water and a knife edge. Good teacher.

  • Scarlet Raptor

    When our little kids played with LEGO, we always used to put the stickers on for them. Most of them are gone anyway.

    • @SR: Well, as I mentioned to my father in the above comment, there is certainly a case to be made for parents demonstrating excellence in sticker-placement. ๐Ÿ˜‰ So well done,

  • Aarathyn Arvell

    I still play with Legos. And I try so hard to put those stickers on straight, but they always get crooked. Good thing I’m not freakishly OCD. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • @AA: Not only that, but they’re badges of honorโ€”that you don’t beat yourself up over the stickers, but enjoy the act of creation.

  • Aarathyn Arvell

    Lol, that’s why I love them so much!

  • Joey Yelle

    Beautifully written Chris. I appreciate the perspective!

    • Christopher Hopper

      Thanks, Joey. Means a lot. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Joey Yelle

        2 down, a bunch more to go. It’s time I started reading more. Thank you for your email. It gave me the just the nudge I needed ๐Ÿ™‚

        You are a true blessing Christopher. Thank you!