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6 Things Leaders Can Learn From Coloring


While it might initially sound like a Kindergarten flashback, the idea actually makes a lot of sense for harried professionals. You know, the ones juggling an iPhone, a laptop, the presentation materials, a nagging mental inventory of to-do items, the grocery list, and a Grande Espresso. That description probably applies to most of us today. Unfortunately, this ultra-connected, overcommitted lifestyle can leave us feeling tired, numb and burned out. Which is exactly why I decided to give coloring a try on my recent vacation.

My thoughtful daughter-in-law brought one of the coloring books and some colored pencils on our trip for us to enjoy together. It was surprisingly calming. Even a little addicting. As we shared the pencils along with light conversation and some laughs, the experience reminded me of doing art projects as a child. Simple. No rules. Just the pure joy of creativity. It was liberating to work at my own pace, deadline-free, adding to my creation a little at a time until I was finished.

When experts give advice on increasing personal and professional success, they often say things like “be more in the moment” and “reconnect with yourself.” Rarely do they explain exactly how to do that. Based on my vacation experience, I hope you’ll include coloring on your list of ways to become more present and reduce stress. You can find plenty of these trendy coloring books for adults at your local bookstore in a wide range of themes, designs and levels of complexity. Seriously. Give it a try!

Beyond the relaxation factor, coloring also reminded me of 6 important lessons for those of us in the realm of leadership and business.

  1. Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons.

Lesson learned! On the surface, playing with colored pencils might seem like an odd activity for an accomplished business professional. But it just might be the refreshing, inspiring and delightful “break” you need to spark creativity on a higher level and fuel greater success.

  1. Get back to basics.

Remember the color wheel from art class? It still applies. Combining complementary colors really does create a finished product that is much more pleasing to the eye. Even though leaders today may be armed with global sales forces, virtual teams and elaborate spreadsheets, the basics still matter. Communicating clearly. Encouraging strong teamwork. Recognizing great contributions.

  1. Keep it simple as you gain momentum.

Some designs in the coloring books are extremely complex (and very cool!), but they may not be as enjoyable because they take so much longer. The same thing occurs in business. If you’re faced with an overwhelming project, break it down into smaller pieces. Try simple solutions first, and avoid the temptation to over-engineer everything just because you can. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as you complete each piece of the project, and you’ll gather the momentum you need to approach bigger challenges.

  1. Turn your mistakes into opportunities for a new approach.

Sometimes you start creating a pattern by filling in the spaces with specific colors in a certain order, but then you accidentally use the wrong color. The business equivalent happens all the time. If it’s not mission-critical, just go with it. Or choose a correction that takes you in a different direction. Who knows? The “fix” may actually turn out better than the original design.

  1. Appreciate your progress.

As you color in your picture, you may get hyper-focused on the details of a single section. Take time to pull back and look at the overall image with a fresh perspective, and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Even proud. That’s also a smart approach when it comes to your leadership development. If you’ve been tackling back-to-back projects and working frantically toward earning the latest certification, stop to reflect on your progress. Pat yourself on the back for all you’ve accomplished. You deserve to enjoy the moment.

  1. Embrace the benefits of collaboration.

Coloring alone is fun and (strangely) therapeutic. Add in the social interaction of coloring with a friend, and the advantages increase. As a leader, remember the benefits of creating a shared experience and the potential results that can generate. Whether your group is brainstorming at the conference table or participating on a ropes course for a team-building event, the interaction and collaboration of people who share a common goal can be extremely powerful.

Have you spent some time with a coloring book lately? I challenge you to give it a try—and then let me know about your experience.

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