Courage Culture Leadership Mindset Qualities

Whose sandbox is it anyway?

Why you should let other kids come over and play in your carefully crafted sandbox of ideas and ambitions.

Did you play as a kid in a sandbox?

Was it your sandbox, the sandbox of a neighborhood kid, or perhaps a public sandbox?

What do you remember about your sandbox adventures?

Was there ever a territorial fight about the best part of the sandbox? Or perhaps some kid entered your sandbox, and you were not pleased with the uninvited intruder.

Even if it was not your sandbox. 

You claimed temporary possession of your space. This was your place and time to play; nobody would interrupt that joy.

Occasionally you would allow somebody to enter your sandbox space and play with you.

But a tantrum would occasionally occur when that kid had different ideas about what needed to get created or started to demolish your creation.

Based on the description above, you may think I have some childhood sandbox trauma, but that’s not the case.

I have a rich imagination and memories from moving the little red seashell sandbox of our kids around the world with us.

Getting rid of the sand responsibly before another move was always a last-minute exercise.

Why the sandbox analogy, you may wonder?

Because, as adult leaders, we often find it hard when other leaders decide to play in our sandbox.

When you leave my sandbox alone, I’ll leave your sandbox alone.

That’s how we often think.

And let’s face it; when we feel ownership over our area of responsibility and our teams, it’s not easy to allow someone to come in and provide you with a different perspective.

Or even, and hopefully constructive, criticism.

We don’t like it when our carefully built strategies, tactics, and relationships are suddenly questioned.

Our fragile egos might get hurt a little.

As a kid, there would always be one kid who was happy, outgoing, and inviting others into their sandbox to play with them.

She was the kid all the parents loved because she was naturally able to have kids come over, ensuring everyone had a good time.

You need to be that kid.

You must let other kids come over and play in your carefully crafted sandbox of ideas and ambitions.

If you’re the CEO, you should ensure this happens within your company.

Occasionally you even let outsiders come into your sandbox and let them play with your castle.

Because sooner or later, someone will disrupt what you have built and start tearing your walls down.

It’s better to invite others over yourself, let them play, learn from it and improve. 

So what does it take to build a culture of playing in each other’s sandbox?

  • You need to make it clear that this is the expectation.
  • You need to build a foundation of trust among the team members. When people know each other, dealing with input, feedback, other ideas, and criticism is easier.
  • You need to develop leaders that know how to balance a solid will to succeed with humility to learn. The ability to listen is a crucial factor.
  • You need to create time and space to play in each other sandbox, learn from it, align, and get better. When you never make the time, nothing will happen.

When you can get your teams to do this, everybody will win. Silos will be broken down, people will learn and grow, and results will improve.

Start by putting a little sandbox on your desk in your office, rake the sand nicely, and see who comes to disrupt it.

I know a leader who did this.

Your turn: Your sandbox or mine?

Do more of what makes you happy!


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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