This morning, my son Jeffrey suggested we meditate together. “Great,” I replied, “where should we sit?”
“The view is nice from the hotel window, let’s just sit here.” I looked out the window in incredible disbelief. “What the heck?” I thought. And then I said, “What I like about you, Jeffrey, is you see the positive in everything, even parking lots and the backs of buildings.”
He said, “Allow me”, and he pushed the drapes aside a bit more, and gently took my head in his hands, redirecting the way I was looking out the window. Yes, we had two very different views from our hotel room, as his included a sprawling Arizona mountain landscape.
“Wow,” I said, “I could have left this hotel and never realized we had a view!”
I feel like this happens so often in corporate America. Last week I was having coffee with an executive and he shared with me a conflict that had occurred in his office recently.
The client retold that he had said during a meeting, “I think we might be agreeing with each other.” When that didn’t work, he said, “I don’t think we are very far apart here.” Both are statements of finding commonality, and understanding differing points of view.
Unfortunately, and the reason we were meeting for coffee, is that two members of that group were already too incensed and upset to listen. They were unable to have their vision “gently redirected.”
What do you miss when you don’t allow yourself to be “gently redirected?”
When I was 16 years old, I wanted more cash. After all, what 16-year-old doesn’t? My father owned a small printing business, and he always needed more hands for collating. Before the invention of our current-day, all-the-bells-and-whistles copy machines, collating meant manually putting page 1 on top of page 2, on top of page 3, etc., about 10,000 times!
One steaming hot Appalachian morning, my dad lamented in our kitchen about how hot the shop would be. I said, “Well, why don’t you wear shorts?” He replied, “If I wear shorts, everyone (the employees) will start wearing shorts. Then they will start wearing halter tops and no shirts. Then customers will come in, and employees will go to greet them with shorts and no shirts.” Not good!
My dad, while a wonderful man and father, would not be the first person to interview if I were looking at top CEOs, but he understood the basic concept of role modeling, and he lived it.
All of us are leaders. We all look at the person in front of us in the check-out line, and if they throw trash on the floor, we have choices: we can also litter, we can ignore it, we can pick it up.
When we are at a heated ball game and the official makes a terrible call, we have choices about how to respond. Our choices are contagious and impact how others around us act.
All of us (okay, most of us!) talk a good game. Few would say, “I am a terrible parent, and let me tell you how I fail each day” or “I am a horrible manager. Let me tell you how I say one thing and do another.”
All of us want to believe that we are good role models and that our actions are consistent with our words.
Here are some of the inconsistencies that I see among leaders in organizations:
The senior executive who constantly talks about cost savings, but spends thousands on her golf outfits, her golf clubs, her golf membership, and then charges it all back to the organization.
The manager who praises the employee face-to-face, but then goes into the break room and pounds his fist on the table saying that “No one works around here!”
The employee who sits at meetings saying, “I support this company. I am eager to help,” but then takes new employees out to lunch and complains and denigrates the company, all in an effort to “protect new employees.”
What are the inconsistencies you see within your organization? Within your leaders? And most importantly, within yourself?
In my work, I hear it a lot…
“I’m 40 years old, I’m not going to reinvent myself now.”
And then there’s…
“I am going to retire in a few years, so let the new kids learn that stuff.”
And what about…
“My father died when I was six,” or “My wife had an affair and left me as a single dad with three kids,” or any number of other comments followed by: “This is just the way I am.”
Translation: “It’s the way I am, and it’s the way I am going to stay!”
Other times, I hear employees say it about their peers. “She’s too stuck in her ways to change,” or “He’s at the end of his career, so why would he change now?”
I have to admit, whenever I hear these types of excuses, my reaction is one of sadness.
I think of the head of oncology who operated on my brother. At the end of a full day of surgery, my brother was pronounced cancer-free and given more years of life — hopefully many more years. But, what if that oncologist had said, “He has pancreatic cancer. Few people survive. Why bother?” How did he know that my brother had a chance to live a longer life? He didn’t. He just never gave up.
I suspect the oncologist operates often and has many failures.
But what about the successes? What do the successes and failures have in common?
We can be relatively certain that without intervention, the cancer patient will die.
Without intervention, we can be relatively certain that those saying change isn’t possible will be right.
It is true that we cannot change others. However, we can ask them, “Is this the way you want to stay?” “Is your current behavior helping or hurting you?” “Is your current behavior contributing to the situation in a positive or negative way?”
In our role as change agents, we must constantly ask how can we improve ourselves? How can we help others to improve? We cannot give up on the human potential to change and grow.
Hold onto hope, and don’t stop asking deep, provocative questions. Let me know about the people in your life whom you have seen grow and develop. I love success stories.