Seven boys, ages 5-8, are engineering an intricate series of dams and rivers by the water’s edge. They even build a small hot tub and are enjoying their time in this mini-spa when along come the girls – first one, then two. As the third attempts to find a seat in the tub, two boys protest. “No girls allowed.” The girls argue but eventually move along. Minutes later the mothers arrive and demand equal rights for the girls. The boys protest for a while, but the mothers stand guard and as long as they do girls are begrudgingly allowed in the tub. But clearly everyone is having less fun. As soon as the guards leave the chanting begins anew, ”No girls allowed.” This scene is repeated several times. We, the observers, are wishing the mother’s would not intervene. We want to see how things will play out on their own. We get our wish as the mothers become distracted and the girls grow tired of trying.
Then one lone girl starts to dig a short distance from the boys. She is far enough to maintain respect for the rule of separation but close enough for the engineers and construction workers to see her. Other girls join in. They build elaborate scenes creatively using beach flora, fauna and debris to make bridges, houses, trees and people. A curious boy inches his digging project closer to girls’ scene. Within minutes he connects his trench to their landscape. Other boys take note and edge closer. They build connecting roads as well. Soon the groups’ combined engineering and creative talents result in a complex and ingenious landscape filled with people, cars, pets, trenches, dams and a bigger co-ed hot tub.
Now please suit up for a visit to my client with whom I share this story. Ms. Julie, the most senior woman in the organization, has been complaining, whining even, that she does not get invited to important all male networking events. She is a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. I share the beach story with her then ask if she is going to wait for some adult to demand an invitation on Ms. Julie’s behalf or whether like the girls on the beach she is going to construct her own solution.
Next chapter. Ms Julie throws her own tailgating party. She invites the boys and the girls. The food is imaginative and delicious but she is sure to include the more traditional grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and sweet smelling sausages. Tailgates and football games are different now. The rule of “No girls allowed” has been rescinded despite the absence of mothers standing guard.
The larger lesson: In the long run inspired and organic change works better, lasts longer.
End of commercial.
This is a cute short video called “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy,” that gets the point across on film. My corporate clients love it.