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.
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.
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.
Warning! I am going to start this post by talking about my kids and their friends.
I know that there is nothing more boring that having someone prattle on about their kids. So I'll be brief.
It’s because kids can teach us about collaboration, the collaboration we all once knew (even you, without the kids).
It struck me that kids (yours, mine and that other guy's) seem to be pretty good at making it happen.
I've been listening to them talk… it’s one idea after another. They can’t wait to get together.
I’ve watched them build something out of spare bits that they find lying around. Or they create some new video with their technology, which is never too far away.
They all seem to know what to do and when. Sometimes, it doesn’t even look like they're collaborating, it’s so seamless.
Sometimes it looks like an argument. There’s one voice trying to get on top of another to share the best idea.
Sometimes one leads, then another. There is a lot of trust - a lot of inclusion.
But no ever walks away upset. Somehow, it all works out. As a matter of fact, this can go on for hours, even days. It depends what it is, I guess. I wasn’t invited to the meeting.
It got me thinking about what it takes (in our grown-up world) to be a great collaborator. And here's what I’ve come up with.
I had just flown half way around the world, a grueling 33 hours from Toronto to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on the Island of Java. I was there on a concert tour / study intensive with the Evergreen Club Gamelan (the ECG).
The ECG is a group of Canadian musicians based out of Toronto. Gamelan is a beautiful collection of bronze pots and gongs, which are native to Indonesia. We were in the motherland.
After checking into our hotel, we made an attempt to socialize, yet our heavy eyelids put a stop to that and it was early bedtimes for all.
Around 4:30 am, I was woken up by the call to prayer as it rang out from a nearby Mosque. I went out on the balcony to listen. This was a first time experience for me. I listened curiously as a magical and mystical voice cut through the still morning air like a citywide alarm clock.
Within the next two days I would visit one of the worlds most famous Buddhist temples - Borobudur, and the largest Hindu temple in South East Asia - Prambanan.
I began to realize that this wonderful exotic place had many things to teach me and that I would never be the same after. I was totally up for it.
One day, I was taking a train. I got on at one of those little milk run stops between two cities. It was one of those little stops where you bought your ticket at the station before you boarded.
Once on the train, after a few minutes, I could hear a man coming up the aisle, calling out “Tickets please, tickets.”
He was an older gentleman with white hair and a pleasant demeanour. He, of course, looked very official in his deep blue and red suit and conductor’s cap.
By the look of him, you could imagine that he had done that walk up the train aisles hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
When he got to me, he asked me how I was. “Fine, thank you,” I said, a rather standard response that doesn’t really tell anyone how you are.
I said, “How are YOU doing today? He answered”, Oh, I have my moments.”
I’m not sure why this rather unusual response has stuck with me all these years. But I remember thinking at the time, “What a great response”.
It seemed to say that there were some occasional highlights in his day and that was good enough for him.
He seemed happy and content.