Joe Whale showing is doodling talent on the restaurant wall

Picture: Caters News Agency

There’s a young boy from the United Kingdom who is making quite a splash for his doodles. And while it’s a wonderful feel-good story, it also teaches us some valuable lessons about leadership, creativity and teams.

Meet the “Doodle Boy”

Joe Whale is a nine-year-old boy from Shrewsbury, a town in western England. He loves to doodle, and has frequently gotten in trouble for covering classroom assignments and whiteboards with his own whimsical creations.

Recognizing his passion and talent, Joe’s parents decided to redirect that energy by enrolling him in an after-school art class. It didn’t take long for his art teacher to recognize and foster his artistic gifts, and start showcasing his work on Instagram.

Joe’s doodles on social media soon attracted the attention of a local restaurant owner, who contacted the art teacher and inquired about the artist. The owner liked Joe’s style so much, he contacted Joe and his parents and asked if they would contribute his work to the restaurant, Number 4. They accepted the invitation, and Joe began traveling with his dad to the restaurant every day after school, where he could let his imagination run wild.

Take a minute to view the video about Joe Whale, and then let’s talk about how it relates to leadership.

1. Recognize Talent

So, what lessons do we learn from this in terms of leadership? For starters, let’s talk about recognizing talent.

Joe got in trouble for doodling in the classroom, and while we don’t really know what the circumstances were, I fully recognize that it’s hard to get a classroom full of nine-year-olds focused – there’s a time and place for everything. But I also know how demoralizing and frustrating it is when supervisors and bosses fail to spot and nurture talent in individuals or teams. Instead of encouraging growth and development, they restrict creativity and extinguish passions.

If you’re a good leader, you’ll give teams and individuals the resources they need to accomplish goals, and then get out of the way. You’ll let workers express their creativity, rather than kill their drive and desire to contribute.

2. Encourage Creativity

You will not strengthen a team’s creativity by immediately implementing tactics and deadlines while also asking them to be innovative. Just as Joe needed a constructive outlet for his doodles, creative people need the freedom to explore and share their ideas in a safe and encouraging environment. You can help cultivate creativity by using effective brainstorming techniques and encouraging idea generation – from all team members, introverts and extroverts alike.

3. Provide Resources

When Joe’s parents realized that he was getting in trouble for doodling in the classroom, they immediately came up with an action plan: after-school art class. Leaders should strive to recognize the gifts that individuals bring, and help them develop and grow by providing resources and new learning opportunities.

4. Build Diverse Teams

As you can see in the video, Joe’s doodle style is very unique. He prefers using a black marker, creates very distinct characters, and also adds words, arrows and other simple images. But there are millions of other doodlers in the world who offer their own distinct styles and points of view. And if we were tasked with creating a doodler gallery, we’d certainly want to feature more than one artist.

Leaders sometimes unknowingly (or knowingly) hire people that are mirror images of themselves. In other words, they end up with homogeneous workers forming homogeneous teams, and spitting out the same results over and over again.

Good leaders know successful teams are made up of individuals with a variety of talents, strengths, experiences, and backgrounds. If you’re an effective leader, you’ll encourage healthy debate, challenge the status quo, and create an environment where different points of view are encouraged. You will value diversity, and create a corporate culture where there’s room to make mistakes and learn from them.

5. Quit Micromanaging

Joe says in the video that when the restaurant owner asked him to create doodles at the restaurant, he assumed it would be on a small patch of wall. However, when he first arrived at the building, he discovered that he was given free rein on an entire wall.

Imagine how different it would have been if the owner said, “Okay, here’s the thing. I love your doodles, but you only get to use two square feet of wall space, and I need you to use different colors, and really, we love your characters but don’t use any words.” We’d be looking at very different results.

Planning, observation, and follow-up are important aspects of effective leadership, but micromanaging is not. Micromanagement only serves to stifle a worker’s desire to create, innovate and move freely within their areas of expertise. Refrain from hovering or constantly looking over shoulders, and instead, trust and empower teams to succeed through autonomy, and relying on their own unique skills and talents.

What did you learn from “Doodle Boy?”

There were lots of things I loved about Joe Whale’s story, and it wasn’t all about leadership. I was impressed by the young boy’s confidence in his own talent, and the support his parents gave him to live authentically and explore his passions. I loved how the art teacher showcased students’ work on Instagram, allowing the world to see their creations. And I appreciate how that exposure led to such a great opportunity for Joe.

I’m curious to hear what you thought about this story, and if it relates in any way to your work environment or experiences. Please leave your thoughts or comments below.

And if you’d like to know more about how we deliver training and develop leaders that encourage creativity, value diversity and drive better company results, contact us now. We’d love to help.

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