Have you been caught up in the adult paint-by-number craze during the Covid-19 pandemic?
This DIY craft makes painting as easy as 1-2-3. You get all the supplies delivered to your door, including a visual of the picture you’ll be painting and instruction manual. For many, this pastime provides a sense of comfort, enjoyment and accomplishment during continually unpredictable time.
Now compare paint-by-numbers to another DIY activity, connect the dots. It’s more than a leisure pursuit. It’s a way of better understanding yourself and your organization and then setting your direction.
When you connect the dots to bring together and link pieces of information from different, maybe unrelated, places, you discover a “big picture” that may reveal new insights. For example, you may find new relationships that have been hidden from view that you now want to address.
Almost a decade ago, the CEO of a software company asked the question “Is your strategy paint-by-numbers or connect the dots?” in a New York Times Corner Office column. The question seems quaint today, considering what we’ve been dealing with since March 2020.
When you paint-by-numbers, you know ahead of time what your finished picture will look like. It’s hard to imagine any company strategy being this predictable today, even if you’ve shortened your timeframe to three months or so. Instability and uncertainty rule now.
By contrast, today’s environment is more akin to connect the dots, but the degree of predictability of the picture you’re revealing depends on where you’re working. Especially since there are no playbooks to follow, the picture you’re creating can evolve in real time as various pieces fall into place. And as things change, the picture can transform in new and unexpected ways.
Consider what we’ve been experiencing with health, equity, economic and environment issues over the last 18 months. We’ve been exposed to many things that either were hidden or not visible (or even familiar) to those who have had more advantages in their lives. These things include:
- Inequalities in access to healthcare and health outcomes. Social factors such as employment status, income level, education, gender and ethnicity greatly influence a person’s health as well as their ability to get affordable health care services and health outcomes.
- Entrenched racial disparities primarily between Blacks and whites. The differences in income levels, wealth accumulation, home ownership, education attainment, unemployment rates, poverty levels, education attainment, policing, incarceration rates, and on and on between Blacks and whites can be stark. These inequalities have been built into the community’s real estate practices as well as laws, policies and procedures of the federal, state and local governments over the years.
- Environmental inequalities among neighborhoods. Those who live near green spaces, such as public parks, or in rural areas have an advantage of better air quality than those who live near refineries, plants and other places that emit toxic fumes. Also, those with reduced risks of natural disasters are in less danger compared with those who live in areas subject to flooding, fires or other natural disasters. For example, in downtown Charleston, SC where I live, flooding is a regular occurrence in several neighborhoods with public housing, as well as the hospital and historic districts. City officials are now paying more attention to figuring how to mitigate the adverse impacts.
- The digital divide between rural and urban areas as well as rich and poor. Workers and school children who don’t have reliable, affordable access to Internet services are at a disadvantage for remote work and school.
- Transportation discrepancies between those who rely on public transportation and those with their own vehicles. During this pandemic, personal vehicles have served as a form of PPE (personal protective equipment) for their owners. By contrast, those who depend on buses, subways, car services and other types of transportation don’t enjoy the same levels of safety and reliability.
- Economic, developmental and safety disparities between knowledge workers who can work at home and first-responders and other essential workers who are at a worksite. Knowledge workers are often well-educated with good-paying jobs. Over the past 18 months, many have also been able to develop their skills and advance their careers, either at their current or a new employer. Those with school-age or younger children probably have had to assume more childcare and schooling responsibilities than they did pre-pandemic, which adds additional stress. However, these knowledge workers have not experienced the worries about their health and safety to the extent that first responders have had to do. Also, many first responders have to find childcare services outside their homes.
- Gender gap in office tasks. Most of these tasks, such as cleaning up after a meeting, organizing birthday parties, dealing with office conflicts, etc., often fall on women’s shoulders, whether they volunteer for them or are “voluntold.” Furthermore, these obligations are extra tasks for which there’s no special pay. And there may be little to no acknowledgment for them when it comes to promotions or career development. They’re simply the “contribution” that individuals – mostly women – make to their co-workers without any return compensation.
Bringing all of these and other issues out of the shadows as dots that may deserve connecting is an important first step. Next is understanding them and the implications. How do these issues and the disparities among groups affect your employees, customers, suppliers and the communities in which you operate?
Only then is it possible to determine how to better connect the dots to see the more complete picture of your situation. And from there, how you can be good and do good in this complex, polarizing world.
How are you approaching these connect-the-dots challenges?
Connect the dots plus dot the “i”s to be more intentional, inquisitive and inclusive
How well are you tapping into the skills and wisdom you need to lead in a VUCA world?
All the old playbooks are out-of-date. Instead, you need to reach inside yourself, tap into your wisdom, and connect the dots for yourself and others.
To start, you can use these 5 tips to embrace your humanity and become a better leader.