Watercoloring and the Proper Management of Employees

By chance two friends took up water coloring during the pandemic and the difference between how they set about learning is very instructive for those in management positions.

Even-tempered Evangelina took a class, then bought a ‘how-to’ book and followed it assiduously. She had one paint brush, one inexpensive set of colors and one block of good watercolor paper. If that day’s lesson was to work on shading by painting 12 apples, she painted 12 apples. She gradually learned the shades and tones of her colors perfectly and her skills are growing slowly and comprehensively. She wants to do as well as she can at all times.

Mercurial Matilda bought a ‘how-to’ book, followed a few lessons and then struck on her own. She bought good watercolor paper, a few good brushes and a set of watercolors. Then a few more small sets, then some expensive hand-made sets, more brushes and different sizes of papers. She would find an image she liked on social media, then try to copy it.

When she finished the copy, she would critique it herself and then either try again, or find another image, never getting frustrated. If her work didn’t turn out the way she liked, she would try to figure out what she did wrong or just let it go, saying “perhaps I was never meant to paint hummingbirds.” She is fine with making mistakes and doing badly.

It will take Matilda longer to learn, but she will know how to analyze problems because she has made most of the possible mistakes. She knows all the things that can wrong, so she will be, down the road, be able to prevent them.

Whatever team you are on or supervise, you will find examples of both kinds of learners. Those like Evangelina will want to start at the beginning, going over each skill until it is mastered. They are the backbone of your project – they might drive you crazy with their questions, but once they know something, they know it perfectly.

Matildas want the big picture (don’t bore them!) and to work it out themselves. They won’t have depth, but they will have lots of varied experiences and are comfortable working on the fly. “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes” and “ask for forgiveness, not permission” are their mottos.

The problem with most managers is they act as if everyone learns and processes information the same way that they do.

If you are an Evangelina, your messages and meetings are a horror of boredom for the Matildas on your team who just want the main idea and the latitude to figure out for themselves what’s going on.

If you are a Matilda who doesn’t want to dwell in details, you are throwing your process-loving Evangelina team members into confusion and distress.

Which is why all good managers should figure out a way to do quick, anonymous check-ins using two Likert scales: an x-axis of “I am lost” to “I understand” and a Y-axis of “explain more” to “stop explaining.”

Most managers expect people to fit into the two quadrants of:

  • stop explaining/ I understand
  • explain more/ I am confused

but there are people in the other two:

  • I am confused/ stop explaining, i.e. Matildas – “I’m lost – shut up and let me figure this out my way”
  • I understand/ explain more, i.e. Evangelinas – “more details please, love those details”

The more you understand that most people don’t process the same way that you do, the better you will be able to manage people.