Four Ways Leadership Is like Playing with Legos

Taylor Scott • January 20, 2020

Once we make our way into the leadership ranks, people depend on us to get a group of people to work together and ultimately achieve certain objectives. Once we’re in leadership roles, it’s less about what we’re able to do and all about how well we’re able to lead others to success.

Where we’re able to take our teams is important. However, perhaps more important is how we get them to the desired destination.

Here are four ways leadership is like playing with Legos:

1. Vision: The picture on the outside of a Lego box

If you’ve ever helped your children or loved ones open up that brand-new Lego set, you know the power of a well-crafted vision. Whether it’s putting together the Lego version of an Olympic gymnastics scene or the Hogwarts castle from Harry Potter, there are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Lego pieces. The pieces vary in color, size, shape, and function. When we open up the box for the very first time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the separate pieces to the puzzle. Yet, the first thing that calms our nerves is the picture on the outside of the box.

The picture of the final product on the front of the box gives us hope. It’s a literal picture of where we’re headed. The picture shows us how all the pieces of the puzzle, which are mixed, mingled, and jumbled together, will ultimately come together to create a beautiful masterpiece—this is the vision of what our hard work and diligence during what will undoubtedly be an arduous process will produce. The vision on the front of the box, more often than not, sparks an emotional connection with us—whether it’s the Hogwarts castle, Cinderella’s castle, or a scene that brings a smile to our face.

The same goes for leadership: Leaders are tasked with taking a team of people—various pieces and parts often representing multiple colors of the generational rainbow—to the desired destination. Great leaders are able to calm nerves, spark emotional connections, and inspire people into action by crafting a compelling vision of how great it will be for everyone when the team makes it to their desired destination.

Just as the front of any Lego box paints the picture of how all of those individual pieces come together, craft your vision just as vividly to create something that will ultimately inspire and motivate your team.

2. SMART goals

“If we don’t know where we’re going, we’ll end up someplace else.”
—Yogi Berra, baseball player

During any given Lego-construction session, whether it’s a one-person job or a multi-person endeavor, we usually determine what we’d like to accomplish within a certain allotment of time. We set goals for ourselves.

For example, we’ll only be able to transform the thousands of individual pieces and parts into the masterpiece shown on the front of the box if and when we know exactly what we’re setting out to accomplish within each Lego-construction session. In one session, we may focus our efforts on creating the base of the castle. While in the next two sessions, we may focus on constructing the towers, then the drawbridge, and finally, the water surrounding the castle before we finish up with the dragons, knights, and horses to complete the scene depicted on the outside of the box.

These are like the goals great leaders set for their teams: The objectives point both individuals and high-performing teams in the right direction, ensuring they are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound).

For any given Lego-construction session, a SMART goal may be: Construct the base and one tower of the castle by noon on Tuesday.

A SMART goal in real-life leadership may be something like: Increase XYZ metric by 20% by the end of Q1.

A well-crafted vision will get people excited and inspired. Well-crafted SMART goals will get people focused.

3. Action plan: Who will do what by when

Now that we’re excited, inspired, and focused, the next step toward bringing the front of that Lego box to life is to follow an action plan. Inside every Lego box is a step-by-step guide to create the vision depicted on the front of the box. With each page, we get instructions for how many of each Lego piece should fit together with other pieces in a step-by-step guide to bringing the vision to life.

The same goes for leadership: A well-crafted action plan is, first and foremost, devised purposely to align with the identified SMART goal or objective. Your action plan becomes the step-by-step guide for who will do what by when in order to accomplish the goals that ultimately bring the vision to reality.

Without the instructions in any given Lego box, we’d be lost, the vision may or may not ever come to fruition, and, even if it did, it would take exponentially more time to create it than with the step-by-step instructions.

The same goes for an action plan in real-life leadership: Well-crafted action plans turn a mere activity into purposeful productivity, taking individuals and teams further toward realizing the vision, quicker.

4. Offer assistance: Sometimes you’ll conduct, other times you’ll help construct

Some people are great hands-on builders and Lego constructors. Others are great conductors, surveying all the pieces and parts, internalizing the instructions, and step-by-step guides as they vocalize what needs to be done.

In short, when it comes to Lego construction, two or three heads are often better than one.

The same goes for real-life leadership: What sets great leaders apart from the pack is their ability to survey who is great at what, while understanding what needs to be accomplished by when. Understanding your own strengths as well as the strengths of those you lead is also key when it comes to transforming a group of people into a high-performing team of people, ultimately leading them to the proverbial vision painted on the outside of the Lego box.

Sometimes, you’ll need to be a conductor; other times, you’ll need to help by being one of the constructors. Your ability to determine when to assume either role is up to you as the leader.

Bringing it all together:

Leadership is like playing with Legos. Whether you’re putting together the most complex Lego sets or leading in the most complex situations, you’ll achieve success by:

  • Crafting a compelling vision
  • Setting SMART goals that are aligned with the vision
  • Devising action plans for who will do what by when
  • Offering assistance to your team as and when appropriate

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