Leadership: The Difference Between Quilts and Puzzles

Puzzle Quilts

A recent visit to a quilt show at a regional festival reminded me of an old saying “when life throws you scraps, make a quilt.”

This implies such a positive, can-do attitude. While I have never made a quilt, I do understand the commitment, creativity, and passion within each beautiful mosaic of fabric and thread. We have the opportunity to weave a similar mosaic everyday as leaders.

I heard it stated once that leaders “leave their footprints in their areas of passion.” This represents an overwhelming commitment to change and organizational growth and development. Such change certainly requires openness to creativity and forward-thinking… thus strengthening the underlying passion. And the cycle continues.

Entrepreneurial Leadership

These same great qualities are found in entrepreneurial leadership. While the current literature in entrepreneurial leadership devotes much attention to the roles entrepreneurs play in their respective organizations, it is a relatively new field of leadership study. In the article A New Paradigm: Entrepreneurial Leadership, the authors ask whether entrepreneurial leadership is a new style of leadership or an escape from management. Let’s explore this question.

The consideration of managers versus leaders explores a classic dichotomy in organizations. Leaders do the right thing while managers do things right. Admiral Grace Hopper said “manage things… lead people” and John Adair advises “if your organization is not on a journey, don’t bother about leadership – just settle for management.”

I think the difference is further highlighted in five attributes of leadership: risk advocacy, passion, locus of control, responsibility, and vision.

Risk Advocacy

Leaders are willing to take risks after careful consideration. Leaders are not paralyzed by fear and inaction but seek to explore opportunities for change. According to the article Leadership and risk taking, this is especially true for the entrepreneurial leader who sees themselves as more resilient and able to overcome setbacks. Les Brown expressed the idea of risk clearly when he said

Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears


Leaders show enthusiasm and zeal for the organization and its mission. This passion comes from within and is not something that can be learned. Uju Onyechere suggests “we are created in such a way that whenever anything fires our soul, impossibilities vanish.” Leaders who excel within their organizations do so in part because they have a passion that manifests itself in excellence and commitment to the vision of the organization.

Passion can be summed up in this quote by Mark Twain:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover

Locus of Control

Leaders have high internal locus of control suggesting that success comes from within. Murray Johannsen lists the fourth of his nine characteristics of successful entrepreneurs as locus of control. He states that instead of assuming that events are under the control of others, leaders consider how their actions influence these events. This allows leaders to also assume responsibility when things don’t go as planned. Donald Trump said

Experience taught me a few things. One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper. The second is that you’re generally better off sticking with what you know. And the third is that sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make


Leaders learn from their mistakes and avoid the repetition that others may be guilty of. In his article Responsibility and its role in leadership, George Ambler suggests leaders are given authority and accountability, but they are not given responsibility. Leaders have to take responsibility. Ownership and responsibility are hallmarks of great leaders and great entrepreneurs. As Adam Osborne stated

The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake – you can’t learn anything from being perfect


Leaders know where to go, how to get there, and what it takes to bring people along. Joseph Quigley, in discussing the development and sharing of vision, suggests that leaders understand they are in competition for the hearts and minds of others. In order to win others over amidst the myriad things vying for their attention, leaders must create and share a vision that is appealing and achievable. John Maxwell said it best

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way

So, what’s the difference between quilts and puzzles?

The puzzle is managerial whereby it represents boxed-in thinking; working towards solutions that are pre-defined by a set of rules or parameters. Quilts, on the other hand, are entrepreneurial, creative expressions of leadership; open-ended thinking not limited by a picture of what the solution should look like.

In your teams, do you make quilts or assemble puzzles? Do you limit the creative thinking of those around you or seek creative solutions to organizational problems? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Dr. Hampton Hopkins is President of Hopkins Associates
He consults, writes, and speaks about leadership and organizational development
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Web

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