Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
How many times do you sit at your desk, stare at your growing list of emails and action items on your bullet journal and throw your hands up in the air in frustration? You wonder how in the world are you going to find time to get it all done. Then, how many times do you look around at other people and wonder what the heck they are doing? How do they find time to stand in the break room and chat about the Cardinals game or the latest episode of the Voice? Why are they not as busy as I am?
But is that really the case? Stephen M.R. Covey says we tend to “judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.” I feel that this quote perfectly sums up the paragraph above. The justifications we use to validate our own beliefs and actions have a tendency to bias our perspective and distort our reality.
You see it put into practice when you casually ask someone how their day is going and they proceed to talk about how busy they are and as they attempt to describe in detail the craziness that is their life, you can tell by their approach that even though they are speaking they are thinking that you cannot fathom how busy they actually are and they may even say that directly.
In my early days of managing Customer Service and Applications, I noticed a trend of team members coming to me and describing how busy they were. Inevitably, most everyone of them would proceed to identify someone else - possibly in the group but many times outside the group - as an example of someone who clearly wasn’t as busy. As if they can prove their position by pointing out the opposite in someone else. As a first-time manager, I was very empathetic to their plight and would provide sympathetic responses which essentially added fuel to their frustration.
Gradually, I started taking the same stance with my boss. Looking at my and my team’s workload, I caught myself complaining about how busy we were and then would talk about other groups who were clearly coasting.
I kept it up until my immediate boss, who became a close friend, called me out. He asked for details. What was specifically taking up so much time? Why am I spending time worrying about other groups? How much time and energy did I spend complaining? After initially getting a little defensive and offended that he couldn’t grasp my workload, I began to think about what he said, and the self-reflection really hit home.
That is exactly what I needed for a moment of clarity. My friend demonstrated the Courage to Challenge (1st Pillar of Impact) and helped me reassess my situation and I began looking for solutions instead of excuses. I spent time with my team members and worked through their issues as well. I described to them a situation that helped paint a picture of what we were experiencing.
I explained that I’m sitting at my desk, and I look at the piles of paper and stacks of file folders (we didn’t have knowledge management software back in the day!). From where I sit, obviously I am extremely busy. I am overloaded with work because, well, just look at my desk! I am looking at everyone else, from behind my desk that is piled high with work.
Meanwhile, someone else is sitting at their very own desk, with their very own stack of papers and work. They also are frustrated and wondering why nobody else is as busy as them. They don’t see my pile of work because they are sitting at their desk, behind their piles, looking from their perspective.
That was my first transformational experience in management that has since become a lifelong journey of growth and improvement. It was one of my first times in management that reflection and engagement of others led to changes in processes and behaviors.
It’s easy to focus on the piles in your life and stay stuck behind your desk and all the biases that are stored there. WE must recognize when the piles are just distractions and excuses that are keeping us from moving forward, from reaching our potential. We need to get out from behind our desk, or as the Outward Mindset describes, get out of our box, and view the work and values of others. This gets us away from the desk of the past and to a pathway that goes Beyond Today.
You have heard it many times that where people spend their time, money and energy is where you will find what they value. The key here is that it is what THEY value and not value from your perspective. Many times, people assume that because they feel an object or activity has value, it then must have value to others as well. You can have the most incredible peanut shell collection in the world but if someone else doesn’t place value on that collection, well, there isn’t a market for it.
In a working environment, people are assigned projects for which they are responsible. While it may not be where they would elect to spend their time, by the fact that it is where they spend their time, they then place value on their project. But for those who are not impacted by the project, they may not see the same value. If they can’t identify the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me), they may de-value the project and decline to participate or acknowledge that it is a priority.
Frustration sets in when an initiative fails to get traction or after initial success, it loses momentum. In those cases, the value to your audience has declined in what it costs to participate.
Too often, people don’t recognize the decline or that there is a simple value proposition mismatch because they are so close to the situation. “It’s important to me, so why isn’t it important to you also?”
KNOW YOUR WHY
Take the time to understand the potential value of your project. What else does it bring to the table? Maybe it saves money or time. Maybe it allows another group to get easier access to information. Maybe there is a community or sustainability impact. Find a way to convert your why into terms that relate to them and can help motivate others to see value as well. You can't blame people for not buying into what you are selling. There are a lot of things vying for their time and resources. At work, Teams have their own project and their own priorities and having a greater understanding of the potential value of your project outside of your own world will help you engage others.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Taking the time to identify the priorities of others can quickly highlight areas of importance for them. It can shed light on how their performance will be measured and if your project doesn’t help them, it can be difficult for them to justify spending time supporting your project. What resource limitations and challenges are they facing? Are they people who are focused on doing their job or doing the job that needs to get done? Determining this can help you in understanding their own motivation.
FIND THE MOTIVATION
It’s not the sheer greatness of the project from your perspective that will unite people to support, participate and move a project forward. People are no longer sled dogs or a mule train that will blindly move forward. People, regardless of motivation, want to make an IMPACT, to be part of something successful. People can only be part of something when they know that they can have that impact, that they and others will be better for them having been part of the project.
When you can translate and align values between groups or people, you can help identify the common value or at least identify the potential value to them if they engage or support the project. Connecting the value and the impact that they can have on the project as well as the impact the project can have on them, is how you can maximize your projects value Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.