The fence around your playground.

Imagine a playground, in the middle of an urban city, without a fence. The teacher is standing in the middle of the field, with kids huddled next to her. The children are scared and staying close so to assure her protection lest they travel too far and hurt themselves, or get hit by a car, or stolen away by a stranger. Very little movement, very little creativity, very little independence to express themselves.

Now imagine that same teacher and the same group of kids on a playground, in the middle of an urban city, with a fence. The teacher again standing in the middle of everything, but now her kids are running freely and playfully throughout the field. They roam along the fence perimeter fearlessly. They experiment on multiple apparatuses, exhausting themselves silly. The only differentiator between fear and freedom is the fence, the clarity of a parameter that provides just enough, but not too much, structure.

Over the last 20 years while working with leaders in their public, private and non-profit playgrounds, I've noticed this same 'fence effect'. The great leaders are those who provide just enough container to keep the riffraff out while providing the freedom within for people to roam. I love Google for this reason. I love IDEO for this reason. They know exactly why they exist, they have a clear purpose, certain pedagogy, tested methodologies, but within their ethos the sky is the limit, ideation thrives and design is born.

This is no easy feat. Great companies like these make it look simple.......and we all know simple is exquisite yet far from easy.

Excellent leadership, clarity of purpose, clarity of roles, objectives, resources, and roadmaps are all good examples of the necessary structures to build a thriving culture from the get-go. However, it's interesting to notice as I work with more and more start-ups, that at times this 'fence-like' structure is underrated amidst their contemporary praise for entrepreneurial chaos, and I believe they suffer. An environment with particular, necessary, and uninhibited standardizations can only help to unleash creative potential, not hinder it.

All this to say, isn't it beautifully ironic that a sturdy fence is precisely what instills the sense of freedom to expand and explore?

Ann Michael Dorgan, CEO GumballEnterprises

Leadership: You can have your cake and eat it too

I've always wondered about the author who came up with the proverb, "You can't have your cake and eat it too," picturing them as a rigid, disciplinarian who believed deprivation and cynicism were the levers to motivation.  Think about it, why would anyone want a cake if they can't eat it? It sounds agonizing. 

Sure, I can buy into the idea that once you've eaten your cake it's gone, but is it really? In essence it's never gone because you can savor the experience for a life-time.

Needless to say I'm a fan of having your cake and eating it too.  What if Gandhi asked for non-violent civil disobedience without expecting independence for India? Or if Maya Angelou settled for just being a poet and forwent being a civil rights activist, a dancer, film producer, television producer, playwright, film director, author, actress, professor?   The world would be a smaller place because of it.    

My business partner puts it this way,  “When you dream, dream big, so when you get what you want you don’t end up saying, 'I wish I would have asked for more'.”  The best leaders are those who ask for more, who dream BIG, big enough to never have regrets, expect grand things, and enable others to make it happen.   No small endeavor, I know. It took Gumball five years to claim that we can 'do good, have fun AND be rich' simultaneously. That is, we can liberate ourselves, leaders and slaves with levity while being outrageously profitable. 

It is an audacious mission, but we don't want to be rich and then wish we would had done more good for the world.  We don't want to do good but then wish we had had more fun.  We want to eat that cake we've built and NEVER look back wishing we would have asked for more.

As a leader, you've already taken on the remarkable challenge of being a leader, so congratulations for that.  Now...........are you dreaming big enough? Can you truly say at the end of the day you asked for the totality of what you truly want?  I invite you ..........have that cake and eat it too!

- Ann Michael, CEO, GumballEnterprises