Lead Like A Child – Thinking Creatively About Leadership

Yesterday, I took advantage of an opportunity to grace my family with a little violin music. The only problem was… I don’t know how to play the violin. Oh, I know how to draw the bow across the strings and make sound happen, but that’s a far cry from making music! In the company of my family, however, that didn’t stop me from making some noise. I managed to squawk out the opening melody of the Imperial Death March and a recognizable Mary Had a Little Lamb, but for the most part, it was just noise. But since I was already secure in the relationship I have with the others in the room (my kids, wife, parents, and mother-in-law), I didn’t mind sounding awful; they already love me, and I know that no level of 4 stringed skill changes that fact. So… I played. Horribly. (Which, I’m sure the violin didn’t really appreciate.)

Later in the evening, I was reading a book about the brain function involved in creativity and came across this:

The professional musician should aspire to the state of the beginner… In order to become a professional, you need to go through years of training. You get criticized by all your teachers, and you worry about all the critics. You are constantly being judged. But if you get onstage…worrying, then you will play terribly. You will be tight and it will be a bad concert. Instead, one needs to constantly remind oneself to play with the abandon of the child who is just learning… Why is that kid playing? He is playing for pleasure.

Yo-Yo Ma, quoted in Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine

I’m no professional musician, like Yo-Yo Ma the celebrated cellist (who plays with abandon like few others), but this post isn’t really about music. But I think this quote reaches well beyond the realm of musical performance.

I wonder if the process of leadership works this way, too? We go through a time (maybe many times) of critique and evaluation in order to learn to be a better leader. And we need this time of training in order to learn the art and science of leading well. But if we constantly lead with the potential criticisms in mind, worrying about what people will say and think about us, we’ll lead “tight and it will be a bad concert.” Remember when you were a kid and could just play together, caught up in each other’s imaginations? Remember when you didn’t worry about whether your idea was a good one or not? What if we could make room in our leadership lives for moments like that? Moments where we weren’t afraid to try something new, something unexpected? To take the evaluation and learn, but then to move forward freely, sharpened and honed by criticism, but not shackled by it…

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