It’s planning season.  And that signals the continuation of several age-old games that leaders and their teams play together.  Unfortunately, these are the kinds of games where no one wins and very few have any fun (except for those twisted few – and you know who you are!).   You can’t control everyone else, but if you want to avoid being the Dick Cheney of your particular hunting party, this series of posts is for you.While leadership teams have their own particular variety of games they play, I’ll start with one played by leaders much to everyone’s frustration.  A friend of mine calls this game, “Bring Me A Rock.”  Here’s how it goes:

  • A leader asks his leadership team to work on creative ideas for the future.  In essence, he says, “We need to build a house.  So bring me a rock.”
  • The leadership team diligently goes off and thinks about the future.  They bring back their recommendations.  “Here’s our rock.  What do you think?”
  • The leader looks at the rock, maybe a little quizzically.  He tells the team what’s wrong with it.  “This rock is grey. I don’t want a grey rock.  I want a red one! Bring me another rock.”
  • The team (slightly clearer and a tiny bit frustrated) returns to the rock-pile.  They re-shape their ideas to more closely resemble what they think the leader wants. “OK, boss.  here’s a RED rock.”
  • The leader looks at this more-rosy rock, and scratches his head. “You guys aren’t getting it.  This rock is rectangular.  I want a round rock.”

 Here we go again!!!

  • The team (slightly clearer and now downright irritated) slogs back to the rock-pile once again. They try again, now spending more time trying to crawl inside the leader’s head than actually being creative.  “Um, here’s a round, red rock.  Like that better?”
  • The leader, getting a little snippy himself, places the rock on his desk next to the other discarded rocks.  “Let me slow this down for you.  This rock isn’t shiny!”
  • The team (confused and exasperated) throws the rock out the window. “Get your own #$%#^% rock!”

No leader I know wants to be that guy, but trust me, this game goes on all too often.  Here’s the simple antidote:  As a leader, provide boundaries for your teams when you challenge them to innovate.These boundaries shouldn’t be too narrow (bring me a shiny, red, round rock) or you may as well just go pick through the rock pile yourself.  But the boundaries should describe the attributes of an idea you are willing to support (or conversely that you could never support).  With that help, most leadership teams will create options that you might never create yourself and you’ll be able to adopt them.