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This is another post in the “everyday leadership” category. One must follow one’s inspiration, and everyday events have surprised me lately.

This time, it’s not a family reunion or hockey team helping out at church that offered leadership inspiration, but rather my daughters’ eighth birthday party at a Minneapolis open art studio, Simply Jane. It’s clear creative experiences have a place in leadership. It breaks Simply Jane art studio partyyou out of your comfort zone, encourages humility, and forces your brain to work in a focused and mindful way.

To set up the lively scene, a studio helper led the eleven girls through the studio to choose a pre-drawn canvas, then back to the paint-splattered tables for a quick set of instructions on how to use the acrylic paints. With buckets of brushes and gorgeous paint at their fingertips, the girls cautiously viewed their canvases, selected brushes and began painting.

My husband and I, however, were multi-tasking: talking with parents who stayed, getting the food ready and taking pictures. Besides being very impressed with how long they painted and how elaborate their creations were, I completely missed the magic that had transpired. The studio helper didn’t, and here’s what she said when I commented how great I thought the paintings were. “Indeed they are. They were really a great group. They encouraged each other, listened to each others’ ideas and just fed off one another to create some beautiful paintings. It’s so great to see!”

A thought emerged: If a bunch of eight-year-olds can master the art of innovation, engagement and teamwork, why can’t us grownups? And believe me, there are some alpha girls in the group. It’s not that they aren’t competitive. It was something about the activity, the artistic environment and the celebratory nature of the event, that created an atmosphere of support and great ideas.

Additionally, some kids were also stronger artists than others, and it’s a testament to the activity and environment created by the studio because it’s not like those kids’ paintings were the standouts. In fact, some of the paintings where it was clear the child was initially uncomfortable were some of the most interesting in the end.

Well, let’s get to it: here are the top five leadership insights learned from eight-year-olds at an art studio party:

  1. Humility: Humility is an infinite loop. Helping others grow when you have a unique skill set to offer and being open to new ideas from others creates marvelous end results. You gain by helping, they learn from you, they help others and on and on it goes.
  2. Break out of your comfort zone: Having a group go through a creative exercise where you are all rendered “uncomfortable” can be very powerful for building trust, appreciation for others and discovering new strengths. It forces a unique focus in the moment that brings forth innovative ideas.
  3. Do the above, often: One of the reasons I think kids are more comfortable in these situations is because they’re used to it — they spend each and every day doing new things. Admittedly, us adults spend our lives subconsciously avoiding doing anything new! But that’s not good. As often as it’s possible, get people together out of their comfort zones and explore a problem using creative techniques. This will foster a habit of being in the moment, encouragement and innovation.
  4. Encouragement: Everybody wants to hear they’re doing a good job, especially when starting something new. Erring on the side of praise can never be a bad thing, especially for us feedback-starved adults. When someone has the courage to bring forth a new idea, praise, praise, praise!
  5. Close on a positive: All the kids got together at the end, and the studio helper held up each painting, named the owner and said something positive about it. Everyone left the event energized and proud. Try to close meetings, events, even one-on-one interactions with one positive comment, or acknowledge some accomplishment.

Leadership doesn’t have to be complex. Be open, listen, get out of your comfort zone, teach, learn and encourage. That’s not so hard, is it?

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