God Doesn’t Use Cookie Cutters

by Brad Harmon on January 12, 2011 in Leadership

God Doesn't Use Cookie Cutters | marketplace christianity

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Dalboz17

Every Christmas my wife bakes the most amazing sugar cookies.  She has become so good at making them that people have asked her to make them for their special occasions.  It’s a very labor intensive process, and when she starts our house resembles more of a bakery than a home.  Inevitably, she will complain sometime during this process that the cookies don’t all look the same.

Despite having a myriad of cookie cutters, baking utensils, and decorating tips, there is always some degree of variability in her cookies.  In the last post from our 20 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Creation series, we talked about yielding fruit after your own kind or replicating leaders.  It sounds like a great place to use a cookie cutter type of approach, doesn’t it?  That wasn’t God’s approach though.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

My wife has dozens, if not hundreds, of cookie cutters.  She chooses which ones to use based on the occasion.  Likewise, God did not create all life in the same manner or for the same purpose.  He designed Creation knowing that there would need to be various levels of lifeforms to make it all work as He intended.

We are not all plants, or animals, or male, or female.  It’s such a simple concept to grasp, but I’m amazed how many businesses try to produce leaders by pressing them through the same mold.  When choosing which people in your organization to groom for future leadership roles you need to expand your vision.

Look for people with a variety of different backgrounds, education, and experience.  Pay close attention to their particular talents and strengths and search for roles in your organization where they can make a real impact.

The Need for Flexible Management Programs

It’s interesting that when God went to make a mate for Adam that He didn’t create her the same way.  Adam was created from the dusts of the earth (Genesis 2:7), but Eve was made from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21-22).  While He created both in His image (Genesis 1:27), He chose different methods to do it.

How are your leadership programs designed?  Are they flexible enough to meet the needs of your future leaders at whatever skill set they currently possess?  Adam and Eve both shared many similar responsibilities, but both had their own unique strengths and purpose.  Even though God started with Adam’s core structure to make Eve, He didn’t simply replicate it – he built upon it.

Rather than think of your management programs as cookie cutters creating exact replicas of your ideal leader, look upon them as a starting foundation that can support multiple forms of leaders grounded in core principles.

Throw Away the Cookie Cutters

Any parent with more than one child will tell you that you have to be adaptive to be a great parent.  What motivates one child may discourage another.  Parenting guides are a great resource, but following them to the letter in practice rarely produces the desired results.

The same is true with developing leaders.  Creating an organization where all of the leaders look alike, sound alike, and think alike may sound like a great model for efficiency; however, the adaptability and creativity you lose in the process is never worth it.  IBM learned this the hard way in the 70s and 80s.

Are you still expecting perfect cookie cutter replicas in your leaders?  No matter how hard you try to make them the same, like my wife learned long ago, it’s just not going to happen.  Concentrate on what you put into your leaders.  Make sure it is the best quality of ingredients.

Your leaders will take on their own shape despite your best efforts to keep them uniform.  It’s best to just throw away the cookie cutter and give them room to grow.  After all, God didn’t use a cookie cutter when He made you.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Miley January 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Hey Brad, I agree with this concept. It made me think of a dialogue I have been having with a client. All people cannot be managed or led the same way either. Not only do we need different types of leaders, our leaders may need to learn to lead different people in different ways. It is hard to be all things to all people, but I think the most effective leaders try to lead as others need, rather than in one specific style that fits them best. A different twist on servant leadership, but conceptually the idea is to meet people where they are and lead them to where you want them to be. Thanks for the post!

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Brad Harmon January 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Great point Sue. If we train our leaders in a cookie cutter fashion then we equip them to lead in a cookie cutter fashion as well. Leaders need to be able to adapt their approach to best fit their group’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s impossible to be a servant leader using an inflexible management style.
Brad Harmon recently posted..Caught in God’s Speed Trap

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Bradley J. Moore January 16, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Yes, it’s the foundation that should provide the core for all leaders to branch out from. I agree… This is why the call for diversity in the workplace has been so loud over the past couple of decades, too.

At our company, we do have a very strong culture and values, so it is important that all of our leaders share those. It’s difficult to ascertain when hiring, so we often rely on gut instinct. You usually find out in a matter of months if the skill set lines up with the culture. We’ve had plenty of leaders go because of a culture mis-match.

Now how did I get from leadership to culture? Rambling tonight, I guess. 🙂

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Brad Harmon January 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm

You bring up a great point, Bradley. Even though we shouldn’t try to press our leaders into the same mold, they must share a fundamental core that aligns with the culture and vision of the organization. If you’re all about the gingerbread then pecan sandies aren’t likely to be a successful fit. Getting that balance correct can be tricky.
Brad Harmon recently posted..Caught in God’s Speed Trap

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