Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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What loom bands taught me about leadership

Let me start by saying that I let the loom band craze deliberately pass me by, I showed no interest both when the kids came home from school wearing them and also when they received them as gifts; much like my parents did with the Rubik's Cube.

I was of course on hand to remove them from necks at bedtime and also ensure that circulation wasn't being cut off anywhere. Other than that, complete disinterest. For good reason, those tiny bands do not work well with sausage fingers and the whole thing looks horribly fiddly and frustrating. So, when earlier this evening my 8-year old son decided to finally take on the challenge of making his own loom band creation, I adopted my usual 'good luck with that son' stance. I was making the dinner, so I'm not the worst father in the world. No really...

Now Mr 8 is a conundrum. He's highly passionate, funny, energetic and he's my favourite guy in the whole world. He's just a joy to be around. Except when he gets frustrated. Then all bets are off. But like every child does, he's becoming more mature every day and he's constantly having to listen to my leadership pep talks about behaviours and communication. But tonight he gave me a lesson in what leadership looks like to a child. So I did what any father who blogs would do, I wrote it down with the intention of sharing it with the world. But not until after I'd hugged and kissed him and carried him down to bed, obviously.

So here's what I learned and for me it's all relevant to adult leaders too:

  1. If you don't know how to do something ask for help. Most leaders are born as babies, not leaders (despite what you may read or hear) and as a result they came across many situations that they just didn't know how to handle. Rather than worry or stress about those situations they sought help from someone they trusted and asked for their opinion before making their own decision. I'm not a registered loom band mentor, but the timely information I was able to provide kept Mr 8's project on track
  2. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, just try not to make the same one twice. In the absence of a mentor or really clear information, sometimes leaders have to stick their necks out and trust their instincts. And sometimes those instincts conspire to let them down. So they learn. They learn to get more information or seek out a second opinion, but mostly they learn to be humble; admit they were wrong and work hard to correct it. Making the same mistake sends a message that they're either careless with their decisions or not really paying attention; both will undermine credibility. Mr 8 got his first loom band wrong and got very frustrated. Part way through the second one he realised he was making the same mistake, so he stopped and went back two steps to avoid doing it again
  3. The strength of your leadership lies in the direction you give your team. Every team needs a strong leader. Someone who can shelter them, motivate them, direct them and create an environment that's fun to work in. It's the team that does the work that will enhance the reputation of the leader so it's absolutely in the leader's best interests to ensure that they fully understand what problems the team facein order to provide them with the right direction. Pushing their own agenda or simply not paying attention will lead to poor decisions, a disengaged team and most likely failure. Leaders ears have to be switched on, all the time. Like I mentioned at the start, loom bands are not my thing and yet I wanted to fully support Mr 8 as he put all his effort into it. I put aside my unwillingness to learn as he explained the process and what he needed my dexterity for. He pointed, cajoled, gave me a knowing 'noooooo Dad' and replayed a video about five times for me. And despite myself I helped him stay on plan and enjoyed it
  4. When the job gets frustrating, you just have to take a minute. All the greatest leaders have been human, to my knowledge at least. None of them are immune to the constant challenges and pressures that our work creates and this means that we need a release. For some it's an hour at the gym, in a pool or on a sports field; for some it's solitude with a book or a magazine, whilst for others it's a coffee or glass of wine with a friend or colleague. All good leaders need a release. A chance to show that they're human and to take a break to refresh their mind and body, so that they can come back even stronger. Mr 8 had been sat on a hard wooden floor for (what felt like) hours slumped over that plastic maze, when he got frustrated and then almost immediately stood up, stretched and said 'I need a drink'. He wandered over to the fridge stretching all the way, farted (and laughed, he's 8 remember) before drinking half a bottle of water. Then he was back to it, with a smile
  5. There's no better feeling than getting to the end. Good leaders have a vision. They can see it, feel it, touch it and importantly 'sell' it to you. And you believe it. So much so, that you adopt the same vision and get involved in the planning process to achieve it. You go through points 1-4 almost on a daily basis, but you never lose sight of the vision. When you get to the end and the vision becomes reality you take a step back. You revel in that which you led but only inwardly and you wear the outcome with pride. You pass all the credit onto the team but know that you've contributed towards something pretty special and all the planning, empathy, motivation and hard work was worth it.

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