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Thumb Prints - Hand Prints - Foot Prints

I was on a panel discussing the most important features of leadership at The Hague, Netherlands a few years ago when I heard the most profound story of the importance of coherence and shared vision and the role competition, cooperation and collaboration play in it. 

It seems that after the fall of the Berlin Wall emancipated countries and cities across the Soviet bloc became a beehive of activity to create a new vision.  It seems that in one such city, the newly elected Mayor commissioned an artist to do a rendering of the city that captures its essence.  His hope was to create a mural that would be on display in the lobby of City Hall that displayed the energy and goodness of the city in an image.  

When the artist brought the rendering back for approval, the Mayor’s response was euphoric.  He had one reservation and drew the artist aside privately and said, “It’s magnificent and will spark pride in all who see it - there is just one thing that perhaps you can adjust.  When I look at the picture I see the grandeur of the City but I can’t see my house.  Would it be possible to sketch it in?” 

Desiring the commission, the artist agreed and after presenting the new rendering to the Mayor it was decided to present it to the City Council members for funding.  Once again the response was one of ecstasy.  But after the discussion the motion to approve was tabled.  After the meeting, individual council members approached the artist with the same request as the Mayor - could my house be better outlined so that when I come into the City Hall I can see my place in the City.   Of course you can see where this is going - the once unifying picture became fragmented and people who entered City Hall could not see the City but could see a lot of houses. 

The moral of this story is that most leaders desire to leave a thumbprint!  When we get too many thumbprints we lose sight of the whole - return to our silos and compete for resources and recognition, and seek to placate our self-serving needs.

There is a danger at the end of the strategic thinking protocol that the carefully crafted statement of intent (the mural in this case) will disintegrate into a competition for personal recognition and resources [The major and council members] once again and we lose sight of the whole of the organization or team.

Competition may speed innovation; it is a generating skill.  Cooperation on the other hand is a survival skill. There can be no competition without cooperation. Cooperation is the skill that gets all the parts working together as a whole. Obviously competition and cooperation have their place. But change does not last without collaborations.

Takeaway #1 is: agree on the long term goal -and the rules first. To do this you may need competition of ideas and cooperation of spirit.  What remains is a thumbprint - the significant - engaging aspiration of what your team/organization wants to become.

For a thumbprint [an impression] to become a footprint [something that lasts] takes a handprint [a way of working that is empowering]. I call it strategic maneuvering - being able to use a multifaceted set of leader actions - managing - transforming - bonding - bridging - bartering - to make it happen!

So if you desire to leave a lasting footprint [one etched in stone not sand] the big takeaway is to practice collagial leadership [as in the story]- strategic thinking - strategic maneuvering - strategic execution for the benefit of the whole not the parts!

 Have a cup of coffee as Dee and Michael suggested and think about it! What do you think? Do you have a story to share?

John Pisapia

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