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Leadership Lessons from… LEGO

What would make a corporate lawyer give up his six-figure salary to make $13 an hour? One word: LEGO. It all started on Christmas 1978 in Colville, Washington, when five-year-old Nathan Sawaya unwrapped his first set of LEGO bricks.

What would make a corporate lawyer give up his six-figure salary to make $13 an hour? One word: LEGO. It all started on Christmas 1978 in Colville, Washington, when five-year-old Nathan Sawaya
unwrapped his first set of LEGO bricks. As an adult, Nathan’s LEGO
interest was merely a hobby until 2004 when he entered a contest,
sponsored by the LEGOLAND
theme park, in San Diego to find the country’s best adult LEGO
builders. After winning the contest he became a LEGO Master Builder
assembling elaborate replicas. Making only one-fifth his lawyer’s
salary didn’t matter because he was living his dream.

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It is estimated that more than 235 Billion Lego parts have been
manufactured since the first “automatic binding brick” was molded in
1949. Today, LEGO is more than just simple building blocks. LEGO is
toys, theme parks, games, movies, computers and robots; all sold in
more than 115 different countries. Now, the fourth largest toy
manufacturer in the world, LEGO Group employs more than 5,000 people
and produces more than 33,000 bricks every minute totaling 16 billion
bricks annually. That translates into annual sales exceeding $1.1
billion. In 2000, Fortune magazine named LEGO the “Toy of the Century.”

The popularity of LEGO bricks results from the endless possibilities
of what you can build. Their versatility is magnified when you realize
how many ways you can connect them. You can arrange six eight-stud LEGO
bricks in an astounding 915,103,765 different ways. If you can dream
it, the LEGO Group believes you can build it.

LEGO bricks provide the essence of this leadership lesson: Building Begins With Connecting.

Relationships are the building blocks of any organization.
Relationships precede market position, sales goals, research and
development or success in the boardroom. Real power relates and takes
on the form of influence by connecting. Look at the heart of any
successful organization and you will find strong relationships that
began because someone cared enough to click. Relationships or
connections will exist at every level in varying degrees and in
multiple directions.

LEGO bricks teach that each individual is interdependent on the next
connection for success. The properly placed LEGO within a structure
provides strength and substance. Placing each person so they connect
properly results in the healthy utilization of human resources.

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LEGO Leaders know the power of connecting and appreciate these three lessons that LEGO bricks teach:

1. LEGO Leaders recognize the value of connecting. Leaders
appreciate that good, connecting relationships build a strong
foundation, unleash the power of synergy within the team, and fully
utilize the strength of unity of mission.

2. LEGO Leaders have the ability to connect. Leaders can
unite even the toughest team members. They do so by teaching that, like
LEGO bricks, people must be reliable when placed in positions where
they are compatible. When this occurs, connection is easy.

3. LEGO Leaders avoid the failures in connection. Every
leader has failed to connect at some point. This happens when people
are misplaced, forced into the wrong position or generally unorganized.

Leaders often get so caught up in the programs that they forget
about the people – the building blocks of any program. While there is
tremendous value in plans, the strength of any organization is in its
relationships. Remember, building begins with the clicking sound of
connections.
One final word about Nathan Sawaya, the lawyer turned professional LEGO artist. Today he is one of the top LEGO sculptors
in the world, his art values range from $100 to tens of thousands of
dollars. LEGO bricks changed Nathan Sawaya’s life. Believe it or not,
the lesson they teach could change yours too.

This material is taken from chapter one of Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons From The Toys You Loved As A Child by Ron Hunter Jr. & Michael E. Waddell

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