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What Mardi Gras and Leadership Have in Common

It's Carnival time down in New Orleans! Mardi Gras is the season of celebration beginning on the Twelfth Night after Christmas until Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the Lent. For New Orleanians, this time of year is about more than a party. It’s a time to get together with friends and family, view creative floats, appreciate art and music, honor traditions, and become one with the city. You cannot simply be a spectator of the activity going on around you; without consciously deciding, you become engulfed in the celebration occurring everywhere around you and it seeps into your veins. Aside from what you see on Bourbon, it’s not entirely just a slosh fest (although it can be for many first-time tourists and college students). For most locals, Carnival is for the “Four F’s” - family, friends, food, and fun.

Being a native Louisianian, I’ve experienced many a-Mardi Gras in my day. From catching beads while hoisted atop my dad’s shoulders as a child to being overserved as a college student I’ve enjoyed many perspectives of the season. Although the traditions remain constant, each year is encountered through a different lens based on where one is in life. As my 30th Mardi Gras approaches, I can’t help but think about the festivities from another point of view. Being that I live my life in the learning and development world, I came to think about the lessons I’ve learned from Mardi Gras and how it relates to leadership in life and at work.

Here are 7 commonalities between Mardi Gras and Leadership:

It’s a marathon not a sprint.

Mardi Gras aka “Fat Tuesday” is one day, but the festivities begin 2-3 weeks prior to Mardi Gras day. If you don’t pace yourself, then you’ll never make it to the finish line. Leadership skills and development don’t happen overnight. KSAs need to be worked on a little bit each day. Time, experience, learning, self-awareness, successes, and failures are what makes leaders better over time. Continuing to identify areas of opportunity and working on developing those KSAs each day will help you achieve success as a leader.

Concise and to the point.

“Throw me something mister!” This is the simple phrase that can be heard distinctly throughout the crowds of parade goers down the route. Everyone knows that the “something” here refers to beads, light up thingies, coconuts, and trinkets of all shapes and sizes. It’s a simple phrase and gets you what you want. Loot. Get clear and to the point on what you want and need as a leader then move forward. Setting SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals and expectations is a tool that allows you to be clear, concise, and direct when communicating your goals.

Joie de vivre.

In French, joie de vivre translates to “the joy of living.” In Mardi Gras terms, joie de vivre is used to describe the enjoyment of life through conversation, eating, drinking, and the company of others. Work is called “work” for a reason, but when people find meaning in their role and can do what they do best, work becomes fulfilling. Couldn’t we all use a little joie de vivre in our jobs to enjoy our life more? As leaders, it’s your duty to guide your people to find this fulfillment by feeding their passions and developing their talents. In addition, are you creating opportunities for celebration, lightheartedness, and, fun to commend the small wins and the positive success your team is making? When people feel connected to the work they’re doing engagement increases, productivity rises, and fun ensues, so laissez les bons temp roulez and spread the joy of life!

Lenten Season.

Mardi Gras is a celebration that leads to Lent which is a somber time of repentance, reflection, and introspection. Regardless of the good and the bad, take time to stop and reflect on the successes and challenges experienced by you and your team and take a moment to reflect on how you can improve in the coming weeks and months. High achieving leaders know when to take a step back and reflect on hits and misses in order to successfully move forward more effectively.

Costumes, attire, and flare.

Mardi Gras is a time of year when you can dress as subdued or as eccentric as you desire and no one bats an eyelash. Whether you’re fully decked out in costume, rocking a t-shirt, or donning body paint only, everyone comes together regardless of differences. We are all on the same streets, in the same establishments, at the same parties, catching the same throws, and dancing to the beat of the same (high school) drummer. In a world today where diversity and inclusion is a topic of high interest and necessity, we could all learn a little bit more about bringing people together to work effectively and enjoying each other regardless of our differences. Having a little sparkle and spice adds new perspectives to the mix which allow us to solve issues more creatively, refresh a stale mindset, and keep our teams innovative to remain competitive.

Teamwork makes the Krewe Work.

A Mardi Gras Krewe is typically comprised of a king and queen, court, captain, krewe and a ball which is structured similar to an organization. The king and queen are like the President and Vice-President; they oversee leaders and make the big decisions to keep the organization growing. The court is usually elected by the krewe and honorary positions appointed by the king. A captain, very much like a manager, runs the show, responsible for overseeing logistics, float and costume design, and coordinating events. The captain is making the day-to-day decisions to keep the krewe afloat. A krewe is like the employee population that makes parade and the ball run. Finally, a ball is a celebration each year to honor traditions, induct new members, and celebrate another year of successes and failures. You need each position, strong leadership, a happy, creative, and enthusiastic krewe to make a successful Mardi Gras celebration that lasts all year.*

*Please note, every krewe has their own traditions, structure, and culture and unless you’re a member of the krewe, you don’t actually know the on-goings of the secret society. This is quite possibly the largest correlation between an organization and a Mardi Gras krewe. Unless you are an employee, you truly don’t understand the culture and unique characteristics that make it the way it is.

King cake.

The consumption of King Cake is one aspect of Mardi Gras and trust me, I can do my share of king cake eatin’ around this time of year. However, the tradition of the king cake is much more than a hunk of dough and sugar.

A quick explanation of the king cake tradition:

Mardi Gras begins on the Twelfth Night aka Epiphany aka Kings Day. This is regarded as when the gift-bearing Magi visited baby Jesus. Christians began to revere this day by baking a cake in honor of the three kings. The original cake was baked in an oval shape to symbolize unity of faiths and is decorated in traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. The small plastic baby hidden inside represents baby Jesus and whoever finds the baby in their piece of cake is ordered with bringing the next king cake to the party.

Many local New Orleans bakeries offer the traditional, sweet treat. Each vendor honors the same concept, establishes the same goal, but each pattissier has a different spin on the classic tradition and each is more delicious than the one prior. The same key ingredients are used to reach the goal but everyone adds their own personal touch. As a leader, when you permit autonomy within boundaries and a framework, communicate goals relentlessly, and allow each teammate to bring their individual uniqueness to reach the same goal you achieve ultimate success. Autonomy within structure allows creativity, diverse thinking and perspectives, increased engagement, and happy recipients. The more that people are encouraged to demonstrate their individual value with alignment to the goal, the more successful the product, which could lead to endless opportunities.

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

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