Are You Leading From Inside The ‘Box’?

On June 28, 2011, in Blog, Leadership, by Christine Glasco

An organization leader I admire very much, Dan Burrier, noted in an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review Insight Center:

“Much has been written about getting out of the box, but perhaps the most frustrating — and useful — guidance I have received came from a Zen teacher who pointed out:

The instructions for getting out of the box

are written on the outside of the box.

Like you, I have observed many types of organization and leadership boxes.  I also admit that I have been in a box or two in my career and even though I am aware of this pitfall, I still sometimes find myself inside of a box.  These boxes are sometimes based on an organization norm, company myth, or ‘superstitious’ belief, for example:

–       We know the best course going forward.  – The “we’re right and you will follow our strategic direction” (even though we have not prepared the organization for this change and we have not given you the appropriate resources) – box.

There is a belief held by some that being at the top of the organization hierarchy automatically ensures omniscience and invincibility. Unfortunately, this belief is sometimes held by those at the top of the organization.

–      Always show support for company decisions.  As a MOM (member of management) – The “I must show solidarity for a senior management decision even if I don’t think it is the best course of action” box.  This belief is based on the fact that in a military model, ‘good soldiers’ must support the decisions of senior officers to prevent chaos and to ensure that everyone knows the job they must do to ensure success.

However, if there are execution or potential customer issues, company managers may need to get out of this box and find ways to bring potential issues to the attention of the senior leadership team.

–       We are only employees. Even though we know the new strategy is not going to work and that there will be supply chain, manufacturing, or distribution channel problems – The “we don’t have a better solution so let’s just go along” box. This is based on the belief that management must have thought about this and made provisions for all the problems this new approach is going to cause.

In the original HBR article, Dan Burrier identifies several additional boxes including: ‘the box of believing there is no box’, the ‘I’m right’ box and the ‘strong ties’ box.

Dan’s final pronouncement on boxes we place ourselves and others in is:  “The ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ or any other title” box.

P.S.  Ironically, Dan is Chief Innovation Officer at Ogilvy & Mather, North America.  His leaves his business card blank except for an email address!

Questions for you to consider:

  • As a leader, what boxes do you observe in your organization?
  • Which boxes do you find yourself repeatedly building thereby limiting your options and your successes?
  • Have you re-written instructions on the inside of the box for yourself and your employees?

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Christine M. Glasco consults to company executives, business owners and non-profit leaders on career management/career transformation strategies and strategic leadership development solutions. To provide you with clarity on how to achieve the next steps in your career, go to and request a complimentary copy of Is Your Career on Track? Assessment and e-Workbook

Email: Phone: 1.940.367.0837

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