The other day I was at the final game of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League playoff season, known as the Clarkson Cup.
It was kind of a big deal. The Premier of Ontario was there as was the Mayor of the city, and TSN was there to put the game on TV.
The stands were packed full of grown-up supporters like myself as well as hundreds of little girl hockey players (like my daughter) and other young women who have a passion for the sport and were there to support their heroes.
It was a great game filled with athleticism and fantastic end-to-end action, but there is one thing about that day that will stay with me for years. And it happened even before the puck dropped.
There was a young girl (sorry, I didn’t get her name) who came out on the carpeted ice to sing the Canadian National Anthem. She was maybe 10 or 12. How brave, I thought.
As the crowd hushed and the first nervous notes came out of her, it was obvious that the largeness of the moment was on her mind.
I’m pretty sure you don’t get picked to sing the national anthem if you can’t sing. And sing well. But that day, in that moment, she was having trouble staying on key.
Sympathy for her rose up in my chest. How was she going to get through this?
Then it happened. The crowd just started to sing along.
And not the pseudo-singing you hear at church or in a school gym full of parents. It was full on. Jumping in by the third line, the crowd supported her with a cushion of in-tune notes.
A smile crossed her face as her confidence grew with each word. It was one of the most wonderful moments I have ever seen take place in a large crowd.
That’s the power of support and it made me think: What if support existed in more places, particularly at work?
Hey! It’s not my job!
We all know workplaces are very demanding spaces with many expectations.
There are goals to be met, targets to hit. Your performance is monitored, scrutinized and reviewed. And the pressure to perform can lead to a very me-centric attitude, an “I can’t be worried about you, I’ve got my own problems” attitude.
Trouble is, an attitude like that can get in the way of groups of people working together. It can lead to things in the organization being done improperly or poorly.
It can lead to workplace bullying or territorialism, or the old “It’s not my job, so I’m not getting involved.”
In the , “The Art of Possibility”, by Rosamund Stone and Benjamin Zander, Zander talks about a different approach to take at work, or in life, for that matter.
Zander grew up in a very successful and demanding family – one where the children were taught that their accomplishments were how their success was measured.
For the earlier part of his life, he was like most ambitious and driven people: doing what it takes to be successful; hard working and always looking for a way to get ahead. It was competition at all costs. Until it blew up in his face with the loss of his second wife.
This second loss caused him to rethink things and he came up with this idea: instead of asking, “How can I get ahead today?”, the question should be, “How can I contribute today?”.
Saying to yourself “How can I contribute today?” casts a wonderful light on whatever it is you’re doing. You move through your day looking for ways to help out.
And it’s not about getting credit for things, it’s about moving through life making things better.
It’s hard to not think of yourself first. I know…
In my early years as musician. I was a bit of a self-centred egotist, fueled by being a big fish in a small pond. I thought I was the “cat’s meow” of drum set players. I had won a few local awards, had gotten my union card at the age of 16, and had started working professionally.
But all of this early success created a problem. I was so concerned about myself that I didn’t really understand that playing music was about hearing and supporting those you are working with.
It took several hard lessons in my university years to get that through my big head. I’m actually not sure I really got it until my late 20’s. That’s when I began to see the supportive side of being musician.
That’s also when I began teaching percussion at the Royal Conservatory of Music. That’s the great thing about being a teacher. You learn a lot about yourself. You see how being supportive can make people grow.
I do the same in my speaking business today.
At first glance, it looks like I’m this guy on stage surrounded by circles of people playing drums, that I’m the centre of attention.
But the whole thing is about me contributing to this group of people through my knowledge so that they develop the skills to listen and support each other, skills they can use after they put the drums away.
It is not me leading them, it’s a transfer of knowledge.
It’s me contributing to them so that they know how to contribute to others. I support them or lead them, but first I listen to them to find out what they need.
Someone has to start.
In my opinion, being a contributor or supporter far outweighs the opposite tack of turning a blind eye to issues your co-workers are having and just looking out for “numero uno”.
A workplace that has a supportive culture is strong.
But how do you get there? How do you build that culture of support even though we all individually desire to get ahead?
Well… a couple of ways are that people have to know that this is what is expected or they have see it in action.
1) Tell them.
The boss makes a bold statement stating, “ Supporting each other is what we do around here. I’ve hired the best people but even the best people have bad days once in a while. Help each other!” Then there’s no question.
You’d think it would be common knowledge – the value of showing support to one another -- but it’s not. It’s always worth repeating to rid us of our constant focus on ourselves.
2) Look for examples
If you’re not sure what that looks like, look around. I bet that most of us know someone who is always there for others. Maybe they’re not at your workplace. (If you’re lucky, they are.) That person sets an example you can learn from. Watch them and learn. Think about how you can be like that.
3)Be the example.
If you don’t have a boss that goes by that mantra and there’s no one around you to look up to as an example. You may very well have to take the first step. You might have to take a chance. Be supportive. Help someone who’s having a hard time. Adopt the attitude “how can I contribute”. I think it’ll get noticed.
Consider this difference.
Think of the way you feel when you seize an opportunity to get involved in something, support someone, or generally be on the look out for “how I can contribute”, versus turning your back on things.
I believe the latter is a bit like walking around under a cloud all day.
Here are a few other ideas for supporting people in these posts:
Now get out there
When you start looking around, I bet you’ll find there are lots of opportunities for contributing, and I’m not talking about giving money to good causes. I’m talking about giving of yourself, your knowledge, your experience, your time. Put away the attitude of “that’s not my job” or “that’s not my problem”.
Because cultures that want to succeed realize that when we all sing together, there’s a better chance of staying on key.
As always I welcome your comments. What things have done to make your workplace a more supportive environment.