Leading With A Simplified Palette

I tend to view life through the eyes of an artist . . . and a singer . . . and okay, a dancer . . . and Eddie Van Halen.

While few may be gifted with these natural talents – in my case, each was labeled “Option Not Available in Selected Model” – we share an ability to express what we think and feel.

Universal among methods of expression . . . such as art, music, and dance . . . is an application of simplicity: understand what happens logically in nature, then eliminate the unnecessary. Doing so permits the ultimate convergence of instinctive ability and inherent desire to perform or execute.  

As we begin our discussion today, I would like to submit two statements for consideration not as opinion, but as Tall Tim fact:

  • The “Impressionists”, a group of artists in late 19th-century Paris, employed innovative painting techniques to capture their thoughts and feelings, then expressed them in a manner that changed the way we see the world . . . forever.
  • Leadership is an art form, a process of expression in which we allow something incredibly genuine to emerge from within, a truly intimate perspective shared with those looking to us for guidance.

Buckle up because we’re going back in time to explore a little art history and discover the benefits of Leading with a Simplified Palette

Painting with a Limited Palette

Red, yellow, blue, white, burnt sienna, and on occasion, black.

It is from this collection of colors that Impressionists would weave a tapestry of emotion among layers of light, to capture their impressions and captivate a global audience. They had discovered that with a “limited palette”, there was greater harmony between the colors, thus enabling the artist to progress through the painting strategically, with more clarity.

Breathtaking from a foundation of simplicity.

Claude Monet, considered by many the founder of French Impressionist painting, influenced generations of artists with his series of Water Lilies paintings. Yet when you see the lily ponds that were his muse, they look ordinary. It was basically his garden. You could discover more beautiful ponds on a golf course or in a public park.

What made the paintings so memorable was the depth of emotion generated within Monet as he absorbed nature’s beauty. These were his impressions. That he was able to express those impressions in such a simplified, yet beautiful manner, is what made him a Master.

We notice how Leadership begins to parallel Impressionism in terms of immediacy and perspective. Reality becomes a visual impression of the moment, conveyed through a wash of thoughts, feelings, and actions rather than a more traditional, ornate, formal structure.

For example, I met with a successful team, who absolutely glowed with positivity at the mention of their leader and spoke with joyful sincerity of their company as a great place to work. When I looked around, all I saw was an office full of cubicles. Like Monet’s Water Lilies, it was the leader’s depth of emotion, their passion and deep appreciation for their team that, when expressed, had created the impression of beauty and engagement. 

These resources are not found in a tube, model, an acronym, or a trend. They are found in you, then expressed limitlessly and beautifully as nature intended . . . through use of a Simplified Palette.

Aspects of a Simplified Palette

Focus, Choice, Communicate, Develop, Coach, and most certainly, Change.

Leading through a “Simplified Palette” is a technique wherein everything you need to influence your team and curate an amazing depth of emotional engagement exists within six primary aspects – colors, if you will – of interactive behavior.

When you commit to moving from proficiency to mastery in these few aspects, you will likewise promote greater harmony between them. Imagine leading more strategically, with improved clarity. Then imagine the potential of your team going from limited . . . to limitless.

Breathtaking Leadership from a foundation of simplicity.

Focus

Focus is defined as “a state or condition permitting clear perception or understanding” (Webster’s). This clearly defines Focus as one of our six primary aspects.

I love watching artists working on a huge canvas or blank wall. They walk up with confidence and put one dot of paint, maybe with a brush, perhaps from a can of spray paint. Then . . . art is “on”.

Every action, every blur of movement and motion, seems to reference that original dot. It can be both exciting and confusing for someone attempting to make sense of the process. The only person who truly understands the natural relationship among those moving pieces is the artist.

As a leader, you have a vision, an idea of what the future will be or could be. This is your dot of paint on the blank canvas. You then do a brilliant job of communicating this vision to your team. What you cannot escape is the reality of external influences interfering with the “state or condition” causing the team to lose “clear perception and understanding”. Suddenly your vision has become confusing to those working to achieve it.

It is critical for you, their leader, to remain focused on your vision, and the execution necessary to reach your objectives. This ensures the picture being painted is one that continues to make sense, not just to you, but to everyone.

Choice

Successful Directors, whether theatre or film, excel at choosing actors they feel best portray the characters. They are then free to direct the story . . . allowing actors the freedom to pair instinctive ability and an inherent desire to perform. In other words, to be truly engaged.

Our primary aspect of Choice is about having the right talent, in the right position, at the right time so you can focus on directing your story. Sounds simple but can “do” hard.

Look beyond the resume. Ask questions that solicit insight into an applicant’s personal values, and aspirations.  Listen to the emotion and feelings being expressed through their responses. There you will discover the depth of an applicant’s value to your team, their willingness to become truly engaged.

I was doing screening interviews for a server position in a high-volume restaurant. The applicant sitting across from me had previously worked in a Sports Bar across from an NFL Stadium. I knew for a fact the volume in that establishment on Game Days was incredible. This was the level of experience we were looking for.

When I asked how she managed through one of those high-volume shifts, her response began with “First of all, nobody touches my food”.  I maintained a smile, but the rest of the screening sounded like it was coming from Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Teamwork and a maniacal focus on collaboration were values critical to our success. In that opening statement, the applicant told me everything I needed to make the correct decision . . . Next!

Choose wisely so you can devote time to directing your story, instead of your actors.

Communicate

The primary aspect of Communicate embraces expression, taking what you feel inside and sharing it in a manner both relevant and relatable to your team. Relevant in that it has value and will influence behavior and performance. Relatable in that it enables a stronger emotional connection to you, and the shared values of the team.

Genuine expression, like all learned behavior, requires commitment and practice. A great workshop activity is for a group to perform a routine task or cyclical occurrence without speaking or writing, texting, etc. The first attempt will feature copious amounts of pointing, grunting, and giggling, and then break down into laughter. All in good fun.

The second assignment, whether later in the day, or the next day, tends to feature more refinement. Given the opportunity to consciously prepare, we become more expressive. We discover how to persuade and influence through gesture, facial expressions, and heart.

The results can be electric.

Develop

You chose a good fit for your team, but that choice reflects potential. The primary aspect of Develop is taking that talent and enabling it with the tools and resources necessary to perform.

The adult learning experience mirrors that of a child: retention is enhanced through demonstration, activities, and overall relevance. I can remember picking up our son in the Second Grade and asking him “What did you learn in school today?” His response was “I don’t know”. We were in the Pick-Up line, still on school property, and he had already forgotten teachings from that day.

Parallel that to a new employee being developed, or incumbent training on a new process or system. It’s not far from the truth to imagine a similar response to “What did you learn at work today?” Granted, people learn at their own pace. Remember to emphasize the value of a development opportunity, the “why” behind focus and effort extended.  

Begin with developing knowledge, then . . . sneak peak . . . Coach to inspire performance.

Coach

As a Coach, your responsibility is to create then maintain an environment in which your “players” can be successful. Providing feedback and recognition, taking corrective action, managing conflict are all methods employed to ensure continued focus on your ultimate goals and vision.

Your team, based on your ability to express and build confidence through their development, will likely begin to reflect your tendencies and character. Embrace the amount of influence you have on your team and use it to inspire performance.

I was exposed to the realities of coaching performance as the Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Point Whitehorn, an 82-foot patrol boat stationed in St. Thomas, USVI.

It was my second tour of duty in the Coast Guard, but I had discovered, for the first time, that I was not the best at anything. My crew happened to excel in their chosen rates, whether seamanship, engineering, law enforcement, etc. The separation in technical expertise wasn’t even close . . . if we were running a race, they would have lapped me.

I came into the position still thinking and managing as a player. Observing their talents and strength of commitment, gave me the confidence to realize “playing” was no longer my role. Which was okay . . . my focus shifted to guiding strategic direction of the unit, maintaining morale and discipline, and being a model of character for the crew.

Directing the story, if you will.

Change

The final primary aspect is Change. As a leader, your personal resilience when managing change is a non-negotiable.

Our focus today though is building an empathic appreciation for the process of change. Never characterized as “one size fits all”, there are three phases a person will cycle through: Awareness, Awakening, and Acceptance.

You first become aware of the need to change, awaken to renewed or revived interest in the benefits involved, then accept the reality of what will be the ultimate outcome of the change. Emotions within each phase can oscillate between feelings of extreme exhilaration and impenetrable despair, peaks and valleys like a sine wave from a physics experiment. 

This is a natural occurrence to any change. Say I am “Volun-told” to work on Saturday, I am made aware of the change. My emotions will most likely oscillate between frustration, possibly anger, then curiosity and potential . . . I begin to recognize the positives involved. Ultimately, I will accept the reality and begin to view the future through a different lens.

Depending on how well my leader has blended their primary aspects, this entire process can resolve itself in a matter of seconds. Or not . . .

Summary

Leadership is an art form, a process of genuine expression enhanced through an application of simplicity: understand what happens logically in nature, then eliminate the unnecessary. Doing so permits the ultimate convergence of instinctive ability and inherent desire to perform or execute. Learning from the Impressionists’ use of a Limited Palette, leading with a Simplified Palette of six primary aspects – Focus, Choice, Communicate, Develop, Coach, and Change – will allow clarity, a more strategic approach to influencing the behaviors of our team

Breathtaking Leadership from a foundation of simplicity.

Thank you for spending your Tuesday’s with Tall Tim Talks!

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