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At the end of the month, the event known as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” will begin. The MN State Fair has been in existence since 1859, a year after Minnesota became a state. It’s one of the largest state fairs in the nation and in recent history it hosts almost 2 million people each year!

With such a long tradition—and with so many attendees—it makes sense that the fair has their system down to a science. In fact, it’s so well run that we all could learn a few leadership lessons from the fair. Here are my top 8:

1. Lighten up

The daily demands of leadership sometimes make it difficult for us to take a step back and have fun. We become so immersed in problem-solving, fielding issues, and navigating tough conversations that we sometimes forget the lighter side of things. Similarly, if you’re walking around the immense fairgrounds you’ll wear out quickly If you’re not having fun!

2. Understand your team

The state fair knows exactly what exhibits, rides, and food stands should be where. The cows belong in the livestock barn. The paintings and sculptures belong in the galleries. The food stands line the roads and rotundas. Your work team is similar. Everyone has their special areas of expertise, and it’s useful to capitalize on them (for more on balancing your work team see my recent blog post on this topic).

3. Be a logistics whiz

All those cars! All those people! Somehow the fair manages to shuffle everyone around smoothly and effectively. In your leadership, it’s helpful to think about logistics. Do you have smart systems in place? Would a new approach help your team work more efficiently or complete their tasks on time? When working with logistics, it’s a good idea to get as much input as possible from your team and gather feedback about what works and what does not.

4. Balance tried and true practices with creativity

Everyone loves cheese curds and cotton candy, but why not try teriyaki ostrich on a stick? Or a Cracker Jack caramel sundae? While it’s good to have tried and true methods, products, and processes, sometimes the system benefits from a little inventiveness. This forward-thinking mentality is what keeps companies like Apple and Google in the public eye (and keeps us doling out dollars for their latest gadget!)

5. Encourage free thinking, but provide guidance

I’m am an advocate of placing trust in your team. Give them the freedom to approach a problem in their own way and create their own path. At the state fair, you’re given road maps and schedules, but you’re free to choose your own route and find the best solution for you. In the same way, it’s a good idea to provide others with guidance, but to give them the freedom to work out their own solutions. Their ingenuity may surprise you!

6. Don’t do everything yourself

Although there is a “board of managers” that runs the state fair, they receive plenty of help with operations. It would be impossible for a board of 10 individuals to oversee every building, clean every bathroom, or set up every ride. This is where smart delegation comes into play. Develop a deep understanding of your team member’s strengths and utilize those strengths as best you can.

7. Reward/recognize good performance

Top performance deserves recognition! Just like an outstanding horseback rider or a talented sculptor deserves to be awarded a prize, so too do your top performers merit recognition. Be sure to commend team members for a range of performance-related achievements, from exceeding sales goals to practicing inclusivity.

8. Weather the ups and downs

We’re all familiar with the twists and turns of roller coasters. They take us for a wild ride until things level out and the ride is over. In the same way, excellent leaders practice resiliency. They take setbacks in stride, strategize, and plan for the future without dwelling on (or moaning about!) their obstacles. Great leaders know there will be bumps in the road and they face these challenges head-on, instead of ignoring them.

 

There is much we can learn from the state fair. When it comes to leadership lessons, the land of corndogs and Tilt-a-Whirls is filled to the brim with them. How else could it host hundreds of thousands of people each day and keep them (for the most part!) happy and entertained?

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it or leave a message in the comments!

 

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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