Work Imitates Art: What I’ve Learned about Coaching from a Mosaics Class

I have loved mosaic art since I was a child. I am fascinated by how the purposeful combination of little pieces of various shapes and shades can create a unique piece of beauty.

For the first time since high school, I am enrolled in an art class: Mosaics in the Indirect Method.

I spend Tuesday evenings in a huge studio surrounded by shelves replete with bins upon bins of colored glass and tiles. I am learning to use wheeled nippers and side biters to create my shapes. I’ve drawn sketches of what I want to create, and am already aware of the new ways that I think about light, texture, and composition.

Although I’m only halfway through the course and my completed work is a month away, I am struck by how aligned this creative process is with the work I do as a coach.

Here are some thoughts:

The process of learning something new has its own rewards. It is humbling to be a true beginner! I’ve chosen to enjoy the process and benefit from the instruction of the teacher. I’ve learned new words such as tesserae (tile shapes), andemento (movement and flow), and yes, even wheeled nippers! I’m in a new environment—an artist’s studio—with other students who all have more experience than I do. I benefit from observing them and I appreciate their encouragement.

The first-time managers I coach have a similar experience in their work environments. I can see how adopting the perspective of being a learner is freeing for them and facilitates their success.

Pieces can be rearranged. In my class I can lay out all the pieces from which to select. What size tesserae should I use here—or here? How shall I represent the leaves on this tree? Because the grout hasn’t yet been applied, I can move and place the pieces again and again.

When I am coaching executives, we work together to assess their strengths and then choose which strengths to lead with in different scenarios. Not every strength “piece” needs to be in the foreground.

Sometimes you have to step back. Perspective isn’t just for artists! Yes, stepping back helps me see my creation from a new angle—and it is just as important for a leader in the workplace. It is great when leaders ask themselves Am I too close to this? What am I not seeing? How can I get a new perspective here?

What you plan may not be what you create. This is an expected truth for a first time mosaicist, but I think it is often true in work settings, too. As a leader works with a team, requesting and then listening to input from team members may shift the plan—and the shift is often for the better. Plans are good, but involving others is essential. Trust that.

Take a break. In the studio, I find it is sometimes good to walk away from my project. I stretch, get some tea, and enjoy viewing the progress of the other students’ work. When I return to my workstation, I have renewed energy and a fresh outlook on my own project. The same holds true at work! A job can be satisfying, frustrating, and a lot of things in between. But as valuable as it is, it shouldn’t be everything in your life. Take a break!

I know I’ll be experiencing more insights as I complete the second half of the course and my completed work will be a great reminder of what I’ve learned along the way. How about you? What have you learned as a student that has made you better at facilitating the success of others? Please share in the comments section.

About the Author

Mary Ellen Sailer headshotMary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D., is a Coaching Solutions Partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 120 coaches have worked with over 15,000 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services. And check out Coaching Tuesday every week at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.

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