There is a well known story that goes something like this… Dan was coming to the end of a long overseas business trip that had seen him visit a number of different cities and countries. He was looking for a gift to take home for his young son and came across a rather unique puzzle that had a map of the world on the front side with the option to have your own picture printed on the back. As he had his family photo with him, this was perfect. He felt this would be a fun gift that would give his son some fun putting the puzzle together while at the same time show him where he had travelled.
When he got home he gave his son the gift, but since his son was quite young he said, “Son, let me help you put the puzzle together first to show you what the world looks like and then you can try.” To his surprise the world puzzle was far more difficult than he thought because all the pieces, especially the seas and the skies, looked the same. Eventually he gave up and said, “Son, why don’t you have a go at it yourself. “
His son took a few minutes to think about it and decided to turn the pieces over and complete the family photo picture instead. In no time at all he had the whole puzzle put together. He turned it back over to show the whole world and took it back to show his dad and innocently said, “See, Dad, if you take care of all the people, the world will take care of itself!”
As a leader in your organization, is your puzzle complete? Are you taking care of your people? Hopefully the answer is yes; but even so, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is easy to lose some pieces from time to time. We need to constantly be aware of our own performance as leaders and give attention to those really critical core competencies that make a difference every day.
Much has been written about leadership competencies, and some models can be very complex. The reality for most of us, however, is that good leadership comes down to a small set of behaviors that we need to practice and get better at until they become habits and part of who we are. This core group of leadership skills may vary slightly in different roles or circumstances, but typically the following three, when done well, will help you facilitate “the world taking care of itself.”
Consider this. If you were to paint a picture of what your organization looks like today on the front of a puzzle, what would it look like? Can you see it perfectly? Is it a simple picture? Is it clear? Who is in it and where do they fit? Are the faces happy or sad? Who’s leading, who’s following and who is hiding? Is there a lot of activity, or do some sections of the puzzle look tired and dated?
Now ask yourself this question. Can you visualize what you want the puzzle picture to look like twelve months from now? What will have changed? How will it be different? Which faces will no longer be there? Will it include some new products, some new buildings, some new places, some new faces? If the four corners of the puzzle represent your executive team, will they still be the same? If not, are the faces that will replace them already prominent in your current puzzle?
And here is the really critical question to ask. What if you took your jigsaw puzzle of the future, and gave just the pieces (no picture) to your employees, could they put it together? Do they have any idea what it is supposed to look like? Will they see the same picture as you? One of the qualities of a great leader is that they are able to paint a picture of a better tomorrow for all of their employees. You are the person they look to for vision and inspiration, and, therefore, the real question becomes not only can you visualize what the puzzle will look like, but have you communicated it effectively so that all your employees share the same vision?
Consider this. If you had to rate yourself on a scale from one to ten on how well you engage the people you lead every day, how would you rate? We encourage you to start by asking yourself these two simple questions:
- Do all your people know where they fit in the puzzle?
- Do they feel valued to the point where they know the puzzle is not complete without them?
Most puzzles have some clearly defined pieces and faces. It is easy for some people to see where they fit. Perhaps one of those people is you! But what about those pieces that, in the most complex puzzles, all look the same? It is easy in large organizations for people to get lost, to feel insignificant. They are not one of the four corners that make up the executive team; they are not one of the side pieces that form the management structure. They are one of the many similar pieces that form the blue sky or the aqua ocean or the green grass.
If you are looking for high levels of engagement throughout your organization, it is your role as a leader to make sure that all your people know where they fit, and not only where they fit but that their piece has value. People will rarely take on a new position intending to be disengaged, but can become so over time if they feel their contribution doesn’t really count for much. It is your leadership responsibility to make sure that the picture is not complete without every piece.
The final question to ask yourself is this: If people know where they fit, do they also know to whom they connect? Who are the people around them with whom they need to link? The majority of puzzle pieces have four other pieces with which they have to fit. And not just kind of fit or sort of fit, they need to fit perfectly. If they are not willing or able to fit with these four pieces, then they are not in the picture and it is not complete.
If your organization is aligned, your people will know who to connect to, who they rely on and who relies on them. They will know that it is vital that they are all working together to complete the big picture.
As leaders it’s our responsibility, just like in the opening story, to take care of the people. We have to paint a compelling vision of our organization – one that is easily recognizable for the folks whom we lead – even without the picture on the puzzle box! In addition, it’s critical that they understand what piece they represent in the puzzle – and that the puzzle is incomplete without them. Lastly, if individuals know where the organization is going and how they fit in, they are better able to understand with whom they can connect to carry out the vision of the organization.
“There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”