Happy New Year! Well sort of…
I think it safe to say that this time of year has a new-beginning feel to it.
In some ways, it’s even more obvious than the official New Year, which is more about a date changing on a calendar.
For most people, this time of year is about things starting again. Our weather can start to turn, the leaves begin to change colour, the air starts to feel a little different, and my favourite thing… school starts again.
But this is the best one: You and the people you work with have had a bit of a break.
You and the people you work with have had a chance for some renewal, a chance for some re-vitalization, re-invigoration, have taken the time for a bit of a pause and reset, have perhaps taken some time for reflection.
That why this time of year is so great for building relationships with people. It’s a great time to build trust.
Maybe you’re a bit like me in that you’re pretty independent when it comes to doing your job.
After all, you and I have spent years becoming proficient, knowledgeable and responsible in order to be able to do what we do.
There’s a certain satisfaction, a sense of pride, when you can do things without relying on others.
As children, we were taught to be self-reliant – strong and capable. And it’s still going strong. Google “children and self–reliance” and you’ll see there are reams of information on how to create an independent child.
Then there are the quotes we often hear that re-enforce the necessity of being self-reliant.
“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.” Napoleon Bonaparte
You usually hear this when someone is complaining about a task they entrusted to someone else that didn’t go so well.
“Survival of the fittest” – This is a phrase that originated from Darwinian evolutionary theory, inviting us to make ourselves the brightest and the best in order to succeed.
“No one can really pull you up very high - you lose your grip on the rope. But on your own two feet, you can climb mountains. “ Louis Brandeis
You get the idea.
But there’s a downside to all this.
Sometimes we can be too independent, so much so that it costs us.
Have you ever thought about the kind of leader you are?
Have you ever thought about how your employees see you? How they feel about working for you?
Leadership is heady stuff but I have found that it’s important to take some time to reflect on the type of leader you are and the type of leader you want to become.
Because when you’re finally sitting in that chair with people looking to you for direction, it’s good to know what type of leader you want to be.
Sure, this is important so that you can achieve your goals. But it’s also important because you’re going to need help.
I’ll never forget the first night my wife and I spent in our new house after a long moving day.
It was evening when we finally sat down to reflect on the day’s events. The children were upstairs in their barely-made beds, surrounded by half-opened boxes with clothes pouring out.
Our furniture was tentatively placed in rooms that were loosely defined from a couple of visits and my crudely made floor plan.
We weren’t sure which room we’d put the TV in so we picked one of the rooms on the main floor and I plugged in some wires.
We huddled up on the couch and tried to focus on the show but we couldn’t. We were distracted. Distracted by every new sound we heard through the open window, every voice, every car door, every little breeze, every normally unnoticed sound you notice because it’s the first time you’re hearing it.
Don’t get me wrong…we were filled with the excitement of new. This was what we had wanted to do.
But just hours earlier we had lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes as we closed the door for the last time on a place that, just 9 years earlier, had been the beginning of our biggest adventure together, a place where so much had happened.
It’s funny how you can see history in an empty room. It’s strange how you can touch a door handle and a flood of memories go through you.
And while you can also see the future in an empty room, it doesn’t impact you the same way.
The future seems to be more of a dream. It’s not so clear.
It’s because the past, even though it’s gone, holds the power of being the way things have always been. Or so it seems, because it’s been so long since the last change.
It doesn’t matter whether that’s in our personal life or in our work. The past has power.
So if you’re a leader who needs to help people through change, that is what you’re up against. The past has an incredible hold on most people. Especially if it has been a good past, a great past, a past that has served you well.
Last year, my 9-year-old daughter, who is a pretty tough cookie, was reduced to tears by a clique that turned against her.
In less than 24 hours, this group of kids, whom she considered friends, had her wanting to quit her hockey team and never play again.
They did this by using only words and silence (a.k.a - the cold shoulder).
I’d never seen anything like it. Or so I thought - more on that later. Yes, yes… apparently being a man does not help me here.
There’s more to the story that I can get into now, but we managed to get to the bottom of it and got some “I’m sorry’s” flowing. We got her to the rink just before the puck drop for a “big” playoff game but it was too late.
Too late, because even the kids who weren’t involved knew something was just not right that day.
The team played horribly and lost badly. It was their worst game of the season. It cost them the chance to move on.
This prompted a lot of discussion among the parents. Some of us (maybe it was just me) realized we were oblivious to the cliques on the team and how they were inhibiting its success.
To be fair, I think some people were aware, but I don’t think any of us (parents or team leaders) were doing anything to mitigate these naturally forming sub groups on the team. And that wasn’t good.
Here’s the thing about sub-groups. They happen everywhere people get together. They’re part of kids’ hockey teams and they’re part of where you work.
Cliques are not relegated to kids’ sports teams or the playgrounds of our youth. They can materialize anyplace you have groups of people who see each other frequently.
If you’re a workplace leader (manager, boss, etc), it’s your job to set things up so that everyone on the team can do the best work they can.
I’m not saying it’s easy but you’ve got to do it, or else…
I was blown away. He gave me one of the best audience comments I’d ever heard, and as he said it, I knew something had changed for him.
I had just finished delivering my talk, “Building Trust”, to a group of 100 people.
They brought me in because their organization was going through restructuring.
There were many changes in leadership.
People had had to learn new skills and others had even needed to change office locations. They needed to rely on each to make this work. They needed to trust each other.
If you follow my work, then you know the tools I use are musical instruments. I do this so people can experience the concepts that I speak about. The audience sits in a circle so they can see each other as they do this.
About 2/3’s of the way through my program, I had the group improvising a piece of music, as I often do.
At one point, when the piece was cookin’, (musical term for going really well), I brought a couple of people into the center of the circle. One of them was the boss.
At first they weren’t sure why I brought them up there. I told them, “Just stand here and listen.”
When the program was over and I was chatting with a few audience members, the boss approached me.
He said, “Hey Paul, I have a suggestion for you. Remember when you brought me up to the center to listen? I said, “Yes.” He said, “You should find a way to have everyone get to do that.”
I said, “Interesting. Why do you think that?”
He said, “When I was in the middle of the circle, I could hear how it was all fitting together. I was astounded at how great we sounded as a group.
When I was sitting in my section, I didn’t hear that. I only heard the few people around me and myself. It didn’t sound as good. I was wondering if what I was doing mattered.
When I was standing up there, I realized that this is something everyone can learn from. It would help them appreciate their contribution.”
It struck me that many of us suffer from that problem. We’re working away doing the best we can but we don’t know the impact we’re having. We don’t know if what we are doing is making a difference.
And it’s because we don’t have the right perspective.
I grew up on a small farm with a Dad who was an engineer. He was scientific and mathematical but didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. He seemed to be able to build or fix anything.
My favourite building on the farm was his amazing workshop.
His workshop had two massive workbenches, big steel vices, tools-a-plenty, and odds and ends hanging from hooks everywhere.
When I was old enough to wield a hammer, my Dad would often give me some scrap pieces of wood and say, “Here, build something out of these things.”
Looking at the pile I’d say, “What do you want me to build?
He’d say, “I’m not going to tell you what to build! Be creative!”
He'd let me use whatever tools I wanted. (As long as they didn’t need power!)
Mostly, I’d come up with useless things like a small chair perfect for a cat, or a tiny car with square wheels. But there was always something at the end. Often they were taken apart for another project down the road.
I realized as an adult what an important lesson that was for me and what an important lesson that is for everyone.
Because being creative is one of the keys to happiness.