I gazed through the window of my restroom at work not sure what I was looking for. It was one of my two-minute moments when I paused to think and change the scenery. Half-Way-Tree Road was busy as usual when my eyes caught a young man walking along the sidewalk. He approached a woman at the bus stop who waved him away gently while shaking her head. He seemed either lost or broke or come to think of it, both.
I was curious so, I followed him from the safety of my restroom window, as he tried to navigate the four lanes of traffic to cross the street. He made an attempt to get the attention of a police car at the traffic light but he was unsuccessful. He skipped across the first lane and then the other. He seemed anxious.
I wondered what was wrong. What did he need? Where was he from? Would someone help him? He tried to get the attention of other motorists but no one stopped on the busy thoroughfare and then he was out of sight. I prayed for him.
What do leaders observe daily? Do we take the time to watch our teams as they arrive for work? Do we notice their demeanor, body language or anything different about them? Do they look puzzled, confused, down or lost? Do we lend a helping hand or a listening ear or are we way too busy, consumed by our own affairs and can’t stand long enough to discern who needs our help?
Leadership is about empowering others. “The greatest quality of leadership is not to inspire. Not to put in…but to pull out of those who you are leading…goodness and nobility in them which at times they may not yet know they possess. When this happens it becomes a revelation to them and they obtain their highest,” said the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, as he addressed an intimate gathering of participants in the impactful Caribbean Leadership Development Programme.
Do you think observing is wasting time and that the busyness of our days cannot stop its swirl long enough to care, connect and empathise? Let us pull out of our teams that which they never knew they had in them. We can only do this by observing their strengths, building them up and pointing to their potential.
For those who are ‘broke’ in spirit, speak a kind word and smile. Where possible, point them to the source of your joy. If they are lost, show the way and provide the guidance.
As the authors of A Leader’s Legacy, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner noted, “We have to stop, look and listen. We have to stop doing for some amount of time each day. Then we have to start noticing more of what’s going on around us now and not forget to look at the future.”
I peered eagerly through the window to catch a glimpse of the view. I had not seen my backyard in daylight for a few days because I was leaving home every morning before daybreak to beat the traffic and get the children to school early. Now, I was staring at my mango tree, laden with tiny bumps that looked like stones on a stick.
“They don’t look like much to you, right?” That was the voice of my Heavenly Father reasoning with me.
“No, Lord,” I said, “Not much at all. They are so tiny. Nothing to look at.”
“And yet they are mangoes. They will be fit for the table.”
God directed my mind to our children and the young people with whom we have been interacting. My eyes glistened. Yes, it is agreed, that they don’t look like much now but in time, they will be bringing forth much fruit. I took a picture and determined that I would prove God.
“Faith in the future, gives us hope in the present.” Unknown
It is not wise to despise small beginnings. It is a principle which signals the early stages of life. Think embryo. It also signals the potential for growth and maturity. The mangoes are a case in point. So, what is your responsibility in the growth process as the farmer or gardener? For fruit trees, your role is to ensure that they receive nourishment – adequate water, sunlight and mulch – and that the environment is suitable for expansion. Looking out for possible pests is critical too.
As a young professional, coach, mentor, manager, teacher, parent or friend your role is to nurture a growth mindset in yourself first and instill the same principle in those you are inspiring. Be encouraged by what you see and put in the work to create the desire to move consistently from one stage to the next. Being hopeful for what is to come, because the principle of growth is at work, will give your faith wings.
There are levels of thinking and reasoning that you must attain as part of the growth and maturity continuum. For example, small minds talk about people, average minds are caught up in events while great minds discuss ideas. See the progression? Self-improvement lecturer, Dale Carnegie said, “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”
As you guide and teach, be the sunshine of discipline, good habits and accountability. Prune away debilitating thoughts. These should be replaced by empowering and enriching words of life. Water their souls with encouragement while building good character – integrity, honesty, humility, empathy and compassion.
It is your duty – embracing every day and doing the things you are supposed to. Sometimes it is no fun to be dutiful but it pays to do the right things all the time. You have to be consistent in order to see the returns.
Let small beginnings light your fire of passion and hope, and give you joy in expecting good things to come.
The walls hugged me as I took refuge in the 3ft x 4ft restroom designated just for the CEO. I needed time to just be and not let my Assistant see that I was getting emotional because she dared to show concern for me, the CEO. She gifted me with a small sachet of sweets with a note which read, “Hope your day is not so stressful”. Whoever spares a thought for the CEO?
It was not the first time that I had come to appreciate, if not love, my dedicated restroom. I often tell youngsters, “Don’t envy CEOs for their own restroom. You will never know the events which cause them to ‘have to go’ immediately.” Their imaginations were stirred.
In the restroom, you can wrestle with emotions which you know should be kept in check as part of your self-mastery efforts. In fact, you may be so pulled up that you have to take the time to straighten your tailored suit, tuck your coiffed hair in place and of course freshen up your visage paying close attention to the eyes and what they may betray. If the self-imposed detention involved tears, you have to ensure the nostrils do not give that away.
The beauty of the restroom is that all the implements are there to facilitate cleansing, reflection, elimination, silence, and observation.
In the everyday stress of the workplace, you need to find time to bathe yourself in silence and solitude. It is priceless to find a moment to be quiet to sort through the cacophony of thoughts nitpicking at your mind, screaming at you to make them a priority. It is in the quiet that you can get in touch with your core. It is in the silence that you hear the voice of Jesus, guiding, leading, and coaching you to get back out there to accomplish your purpose for the day. It is when you are alone that you are able to strategise to serve others better. It only takes about five minutes or less to retreat for your mental health.
You need to pause amidst the constant flow of messages, pings on your digital devices, serving, teaching, answering the phones, providing excellent customer service, responding to calls for help, fingering through files and managing conflict.
The retreat should be empowering and energizing to be effective. Feel free to clear your mind, pray, read, breathe deeply and resolve to be victorious over it all, no matter what it is.
Your purpose is bigger than the situation that is bringing about the feelings of stress and strain. You work as unto the Lord Jesus. You desire to serve with excellence and aplomb.
Here is a quote which has inspired me to make good use of two minutes:
Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes. For two minutes, configure your brain to be the best – cope the best in the situation. ~ Amy Cuddy
Will you carve out time to retreat and renew your mind today?
It was a defining week. The events were emotional, senseless, challenging yet there was growth.
There was outrage on display about the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. I knew that the situation was in need of leadership at the highest level. Can’t they see that there needs to be serious systemic changes through legislation?
Back home, there was the heartbreaking story of an 87 year old man, Noel Chambers, beloved by his family, who was locked away in prison without a trial for more than 40 years. He died without justice being served, even after numerous attempts by his devout sister to write and beseech authorities. Change needed.
In my world, there was the push back from my adolescents who think they know it all and can do ‘life’ by themselves. Oh yes! They were pushing back against the strategies I was employing for them to get more restful sleep and rising at a set time.
And so, no sooner had I urged my newly minted 15 year old son with a “Don’t give up” message, than I was now drowning in discouragement. There is just something about having expectations and not seeing them come true fast enough. I had to take a pause and gather the loins of my mind. No one said a seed would grow into a fruit bearing tree overnight. It is a process.
The week began with everyone outside of their comfort zones. But that is where the growth is isn’t it?
And thankfully, by week’s end, we are at a point in our conversations globally, nationally and personally where we have moved forward with hope and victory…well…victory for me and my young ‘uns.
Growth and victory steps:
Stick to your responsibility because of love.
Evaluate your commitment to your responsibility, no matter what it is. You cannot afford to shirk now. If you do, it will unravel into a royal mess. Once you are breathing, hold the reins. (Thanks Mom)
Forgive and be compassionate to yourself.
This is a powerful decision. Forgive others and yourself. Acknowledge any mess you have made through your speech, actions resulting from anger, disappointment, fear and uncertainty. Ask for forgiveness with sincerity because this will free you. Don’t blame anyone. Simply ask the person you have wronged to forgive you. Then, forgive yourself and determine to use this experience to climb to a higher level on your personal development journey.
Release guilt and walk free.
The pain of our journey sometimes brings guilt and shame. However, once you experience this, pause, remember you repented and forgive yourself. Assess the situation through the eyes of God’s love and faith. Encourage yourself with His words. Let it go and walk in victory knowing that by God’s help everything is going to be alright. Now get back in the game and keep moving in your new found freedom. Another battle down!
Won’t you lead yourself to victory…through the pain of discouragement…today?
My son Josh is turning 15. It will be a birthday celebration like none other. Every effort must be made to keep the gallivanting to a minimum. We actually thought the curfew time was earlier so we didn’t have any big expectations.
Ordinarily, he would be celebrating with a host of friends who always had a plan up their sleeves. They were adventurous and imaginative. They had to hang out for the entire day doing the things they love – Go-carting, video games, football, you name it.
Not so this year which is all about physical distancing, masks, sanitizing, limited number of people in any one space and the latest party app.
He was born on Labour Day and labour I did. I thought I died so many times over. But the contractions were still there and so were my husband, the nurses, my parents and our Pastor.
After all of that and tons of drama over the years that followed, I want my only son to learn some precious lessons.
In life there will be challenges that can cause real pain. Don’t give up! Think of how the Bible captures childbirth: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21). Your arrival brought so much joy to us as a family that was now complete having had one little girl before. And imagine, I thought I would have given up this time because the pain was excruciating. But I was encouraged by those surrounding me…don’t give up now!
Son, aren’t’ you glad I didn’t give up? (Ha!). The same is true about academic pursuits, which are particularly difficult during COVID. You are distracted by being home. The online classes are on and off. Everyone is trying to adapt to new ways of doing things. And you are learning how to make adjustments, set routines and take responsibility for your own progress. These, will serve you well as a student leader. You have the makings of an advocate. Your discussions have shown that you are a thinker. Tap into that and channel your energies towards representing the voices of those who need assistance. Share your views with respect and humility because you don’t know everything. You knew that!
When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. That is a popular saying. Embrace it and don’t wilt under pressure. You got this! Get tougher. Tough experiences will only make you stronger mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Now is the time to exercise your faith muscle in Jesus. Your sister had a deadline extended. That is the hand of God. Prove Him for yourself too. What you sow, you will reap. Don’t give up! Be bold as a lion! We love you…and I’ve got more lessons for ya! But I will just chill now…
I washed my drapes for the first time recently (during COVID) and ended up with an extra valance when I was finished putting them up. How did that happen?
The truth is I dreaded cleaning those heavy drapes. I dreaded taking them down, getting them to the cleaners, lugging with them up the stairs and sorting them out. From afar, I tried to figure out the contraption with the rods. I just couldn’t do it. It was way too overwhelming and what was worse, I couldn’t do it on my own. I enlisted the verbal commitment of my husband who promptly told me how easy it was and that I can do it…alone…but he soon relented because of my protestations.
Then the day came and the windows were naked…and the moonlight danced unhindered on my bed linen.
Online school and work from home were in session and ramped up. For my lunch break I decided to try my hand at the drapes. I now saw it as a useful distraction from being seated at my laptop. The drapes themselves were easy to place on the rods. But the valance. I enlisted the help of my adolescent daughter who I knew would get a kick out of the challenge because she needed a break too. Soon we were engaged in rambunctious banter. Who would get it right? Should we look back at the pictures of how they were intertwined? How come I didn’t remember how I took them off? Ok, you go first! And so it was as we tried to figure it out. I ended up with an extra valance when I was through. She gave mine one look and went to work diligently. I admired her determination. And she did it!
What did I do? I reframed my situation. You can too. Here’s how:
Acknowledge your ‘overwhelm’ in situations that you would rather not face and then…face them. Reframe the conversation in your head. Begin with the end in mind. This is not about how things actually are but what you want at the end.
Ask for help as part of the preparatory process to face your mountain. Nothing is truly accomplished alone.
If the need is not immediate, allow the passage of time to explore your strongly held thoughts (it is overwhelming etc) and strengthen your resolve that it can and will be done. Do not allow procrastination to set in and your accomplishment, nil.
Build in healthy competition to help you complete your tasks. Consider competing against yourself or enlisting a willing competitor. It is not about who wins but that finishing well, is to win.
Find the humour while pushing through ‘unpleasant’ tasks. Laugh at yourself.
It is okay to do things a little differently because situations require flexibility, adaptability and creativity. Thanks to my sister, I felt comfortable with that extra valance.
These beacons are needed for your leadership journey especially on stormy seas. Which one will you commit to practising today?
Government leaders in the Western world have been at pains to give credit to the nurses, doctors, health aides, sanitisation engineers and everyone who is trying to save lives at this time. These heroes beat the fear and strain to bring hope to homes by caring for COVID-19 patients. And that is a good strategy, to eulogise and laud them. This calls our attention away from the temptation to discriminate and engage in a fearful scramble when we see our neighbor, friend or relative who is serving at the nearby health facility. Unfortunately, discrimination in this crisis is real.
Consequently, the media has served up pictures of grateful communities applauding workers who otherwise, would have been invisible. We get goosebumps watching how humans have put away their differences and have come together to orchestrate their applause. We stand at attention and watch in awe, the collective salute to the health workers’ courage, bravery and sacrifice to turn up and care for the wave of COVID-19 patients sweeping their hospitals. What’s painful is the feeling of helplessness which they must feel as they lose patient after patient. This is the reason we see snippets of celebrations when a patient recovers as health care workers pause to appreciate each other in the midst of the crisis.
Who would have thought that appreciation could be so nurturing to the human soul?
Curiously these scenes remind me of an experience. I was on a business trip and this can be heady stuff. I just flew in. Happily my bags came with me and my mind was buzzing with all the preparations that had to be made overnight so that I could turn up early, bright eyed and bushy tailed for our first meeting of participants in a leadership development session. You know how it is when one is living out of a suitcase on a business trip. Some of us are uber organized. Everything has to be packed out no matter what time the flight landed. Suits ironed and coordinated. Cosmetics located and so on. Others of us are not so structured. We are lucky if we can find our hair brush. What am I saying? Our toothbrush, right?
My first morning arrived and I am uber organized, thank God. Everything in its place and a place for everything. When I returned to my room later that evening, there was a note from my room attendant who left one of the hotel’s luxury bathrobes “for me to enjoy”. I was pleasantly surprised. And I scribbled a response and said, “Thank you for your kind gesture”.
The second morning, this student of leadership principles goes about her routine: prays, stretches, makes the bed, fluffs the pillows, puts away trash where they belong and you know…everything in its place and a place for everything…and trots off to class. At the end of the long and grueling day, there is another surprise. This time a longer note. I wasn’t sure what qualified me for this favour but a friend once told me, “When God is favouring you girl, don’t question it or try to give it back!” Haha. I scribbled “Ta” (short for thank you) and rushed out to an evening meeting for group work.
The third morning, I woke late but with the routine I built up, I delivered the ‘everything in its place’ job superbly and guess what? I was greeted with a sachet of chocolate mix and another note:
“It’s my pleasure. Thank you for being so clean and tidy. People like you make my job so much easier. Hope you enjoy everything. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” Brandi. Smiley face.
I couldn’t believe what I just read. Could my efforts in maintaining my morning routine have such an impact? I sat and enjoyed the hot chocolate brew that she gifted me and settled in for the night reflecting on the virtue of valuing others and perceiving that this was indeed a lesson in leadership, self-management, and appreciation. I appreciated my room attendant and the job she did and she appreciated me. I drifted off to sleep remembering a profound talk which was delivered by Admiral William McRaven:
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
In the morning I left her a bar of chocolate with a note of gratitude and dashed out to meet my facilitators and fellow students. At the end of another long and tiring day of collecting leadership tools, I looked forward to the solace of my room and to see if there would be a note from my Room Attendant. I was enjoying this as I had never experienced anything like this before. Sure enough there was another note. My room attendant was courteous. This one read:
“Mrs. Rowe, I am glad you enjoyed everything. Thank you for the chocolate bar.” Brandi
I just noticed. She took the time to find out my name. Wow! I was leaving in the morning and Brandi carved out the time in her busy cleaning schedule to meet me. “Oh my! You are Brandi?! Thank you for being so kind.” “I am happy to finally meet you Mrs. Rowe.” I wished I could have given her more than a tip and told her so. And while I didn’t have either silver or gold, I offered her what I had…the love of God and told her that the Lord Jesus loves her. She thanked me, obviously encouraged and I ran off with my bags to catch my flight.
The world is watching how we treat these frontline sanitation workers in the crisis. And the world is taking its cue from leaders. If as leaders we don’t highlight their sacrifice and demonstrate that we value them in tangible ways, then discrimination, fear and hate will quickly set in. I saw on social media where a nurse received a discount from a supermarket just because…she was a nurse serving at this time. She was brought to tears because she had had a harrowing day of families being upset and patients lost.
Brandi taught me that small gestures and efforts can do a world of good in making someone feel valued. The security guards at work remind me of this too. How are we making people’s lives easier today? How are we making a difference through our interactions with those who serve us? Once again, I find that appreciation nurtures the human soul. Who will you appreciate today?
Share ways in which you show appreciation.
Update to the original post: I received permission from The Prince George Hotel, Halifax, Nova Scotia to publish the pics which featured the hotel’s name. Thank you to the General Manager, Scott Travis and Director, HR, Carol Logan who gave the approval. Wonderful team.
Donna-Marie Rowe has been the Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) since 2009 and is the recipient of the prestigious RJRGleaner Honour Award 2019 for Public Service for her inspiring leadership of the JIS, managing its transformation into a modernized government agency.
While on a trip to St. Vincent, we heard a story that resonated with every listener. The rapt audience consisted of participants in a seminal Leadership Development Programme under the Caribbean Leadership Project. The main characters in the story were a beggar and baker.
The beggar had a familiar response to the baker, who gifted him with a loaf of bread daily. The man who needed the bread for his sustenance often told the baker, ‘Whatever good you do, you do it for yourself. Whatever bad you do, you do it for yourself.’ This was to be medicine for the heart of the baker especially since the beggar could not repay him.
For years the beggar went to the baker begging for bread and daily the baker would oblige and give him a loaf. Daily the beggar reminded the baker that whatever good he did, he did for himself and whatever bad he did, he did for himself. This went on for an enormously long time. One day the beggar went by the baker’s and instead of receiving the usual loaf of bread, he was given a sandwich. The beggar was pleasantly surprised and reminded the baker that whatever good he did, he did so for himself and whatever bad he did, he did so for himself.
The beggar decided to take home the sandwich as he wanted to cherish it a little longer than normal. After all it was not just a loaf of bread as he was used to. He would enjoy the sandwich at home.
On his way he met the baker’s two sons who had gone hunting. They knew their father was always kind to the beggar by giving him a loaf of bread. They were hungry and so they asked the beggar if their father had given him the usual loaf of bread today. They were so hungry they told the beggar that if he gave them the bread they would ensure that their father gave him two loaves tomorrow instead.
The beggar thought long and hard about the sandwich which he received for the first time from the baker and thought, “These are his sons, let me give to them the sandwich which the baker gave me for he has been so kind to me over these many years.” The beggar gave the baker’s sons the sandwich. They devoured it and went on their way.
In the night, the sons started to feel ill and cried out in their pain to their father for help. Their father was astonished at their writhing and wanted to know what they had eaten that day. The boys said, “Nothing, other than the sandwich which the beggar got from you”.
The father held his head in disbelief and wept bitterly. He had planned that day to get rid of the beggar once and for all for he was tired of the begging. He had poisoned the sandwich which he now found out his sons ate. His beloved sons died that night and it was then that the baker remembered the beggar’s recurring words …but it was too late.
Oh how devastated the baker must have been at the end of the day. The evil he concocted, unfortunately impacted his own house and heart. He got weary in well doing but he never did it from a clean heart in the first place. What was he thinking?
The good you do…you do for yourself…eventually
Leaders, at times, are drunk with power. We see that on the world stage even in this time of crisis when decisions need to be made for the benefit of all.
Leadership requires that we look at our purpose…to bring out the best in the people who we lead and to inspire and elicit that which they did not even know they had within themselves. The good you do in investing in your direct reports will see you and your team reaping the successes of growth and increased capacity. Don’t be weary. Keep making the bold moves. Care more than everyone else. Be watchful over your hearts, your intentions and motivations. Be careful of minimising thoughts. Do good, even more so, for those who cannot repay you.
But is it always true that when you do good, you will get good in return? That question may be badgering your mind especially if you are the recipient of a difficult situation, my euphemism for a toxic environment of betrayal, false accusations, covetousness, malice and just pure evil. Instead of complaining and becoming bitter, become better. That is not a cliche. It is the thing to do. It is through these situations that leaders grow. It is through the crisis…the discomfort… that you develop new skills and find new levels of maturity and growth. This is one good that you will be sure to reap. Your faith anchors you in these times when you are shoved outside of your comfort zone. Be encouraged to be the light and go beyond yourself… anyway.
People are illogical, unreasonable and self centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
Excerpt from the “Anyway” poem by Kent M. Keith
Be sure to share your thoughts on when you went beyond yourself especially outside your comfort zone and the outcomes.
PS. It is a great moment to honour the memory of my late beloved Daddy, Donald A. Wallace, who would have celebrated his birthday today. He and my Mom, Doris, went beyond themselves and taught me the joys of writing.
Donna-Marie Rowe has been the Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) since 2009 and is the recipient of the prestigious RJRGleaner Honour Award 2019 for Public Service for her inspiring leadership of the JIS, managing its transformation into a modernized government agency.
The melodious whistling from the busy street just outside my office window, pierced my consciousness as I was reading about parenting. Just a few strains of “One day at a time, sweet Jesus,” was all I needed in the very moment as I leaned in, closed my eyes and reflected on the apt timing.
I once asked a colleague if she could hear the whistling in the mornings at about 9:00 a.m. and she had never heard it. Our office faces the busy Half Way Tree Road, in Kingston bustling with the sounds of constant movement, honking horns and the clamour of ‘sidemen’ wooing potential passengers. Perhaps it is true that you only hear what is meant for you through God’s divine design, despite the noise.
I was in the middle of reading an article written by Maye Musk, mother of three successful children including electric vehicle manufacturer and business magnate, Elon Musk. What wouldn’t I want to learn from a woman who had reaped enviable success with her children? She emphasized teaching the children responsibility, letting them complete their university forms themselves and involving them in the family business from an early age. Furthermore she stressed good manners.
For weeks I had been agonizing over the outcome of my parenting skills and expectations, only to be told in various ways to take it… one day at a time.
Later on, I bumped into a writing about how God comes to meet women where they are. There were really powerful examples in the Bible. Women, it seems never have the luxury of leaving babies, meals and homes and a myriad of chores to head to a quiet, secluded escape and even if they did, all the responsibilities would come galloping after them if not physically, most certainly in their heads.
Jesus met women at wells, in their homes, and at bedsides. Today, he met me at my desk. How many times do we worry about the future? What will the children turn out to be? How can I make sure that my investment of time, energy and training will have the most certain outcome of good success and achievement? Then I pulled a thought from my Promise Box which read When you do all you can, God will do what you can’t.
The object lesson which jumped into my week of musings was the story found in Matthew 14:30 of Peter walking on the water towards Jesus, while the winds were contrary and the sea boisterous. My nuggets, together with gentle encouragement are as follows:
Impatience is a storm that brings winds of irritability. You will have to deal with this storm.
Fear makes us bury each other and our talent during the storm.
Step out of the boat and let faith invade your storm.
Don’t be anxious. Take the training. Don’t let the storm stop you.
Keep moving and doing …and walk ‘on’ your storm by focusing on Jesus, the source of your strength.
The goal in parenting isn’t perfection. It’s progress.
You don’t eat the fruit the same day you plant the seed.
What are your thoughts about leadership in every aspect of your life and building one block at a time?
I have been pondering this concept of standing in possibility since it was introduced in a Leading Change Workshop hosted by the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD). We were to reflect on who we were being as we led our change initiatives. It was also outward looking to assess our impact on the stakeholders who were involved in the change. We watched a presentation by renowned conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander about ‘Giving an A’ at the start of the semester. The trick to it however, was that each student was asked to write a letter to the conductor stating why they got the ‘A’.
The practice of expecting something of someone, in respect of behavior and performance, and giving that person an expectation to live up to was consuming me. I even used this language, somewhat erroneously, while trying to explain the concept of Giving an A and standing in possibility. It baffled me how both could be different. Then I observed some relationships in which high expectations were cherished but alas disappointment.
Reflecting on the relationship between a parent and an adolescent child and expected grades in school, one will see that the driving force is a fear that the child will not live up to expectations or from the child’s point of view, he/she will fail to make the parent proud. Let’s apply this to a husband and wife relationship. Both go into the marriage with expectations. Society may have expected that the husband would be the breadwinner while the wife will do home duties. What happens when the husband loses his job? Is there disappointment? And if the wife isn’t doing well in the housekeeping department, what is happening to his expectations? Does this create conflict in the relationship and close the door to the possibilities that are yet untapped? Can we see the possibilities of a husband and wife team working well together in the reversal of traditional roles?
If we go back to the parent and child relationship, the endgame would be the overall success of the child as this relates primarily to being able to fend for themselves financially. And there are countless parental fears if the child does not ‘live up to expectations.”
On the other hand, standing in possibility now opens up something new. As opposed to sitting in the box of expectations, we are now creating new pathways to ‘success.’ This reminds me of one of my mantras: There is no one route to success. Somehow this strikes me as freeing. As the bulb lights up in my head, I think of persons who have had limitations placed on their lives because of their less than flattering beginnings. Not much would be expected of them, while onlookers pitying their circumstances would expect the worse. So much for expectations. But thankfully there are endless possibilities if we just open our eyes to see them.
At work, do we have high expectations of our leaders and direct reports? Do we place them in a box and when they don’t operate within those expectations we give them a failing grade which results in the relationship going south?
I would like to posit that there is a space where both polarities – expectations and possibilities – could exist in a kind of symphony. Only let us be mindful of the effect on our relationships because expectations can be either limiting or daunting, the latter frequently resulting in a judgmental response. Conversely, possibilities are creative, inviting and endless. It seems best to minimize our expectations, if not suspend them, so that we may fill the space with possibilities.
I read recently that leaders should not take questions personally. It gave me enough reason to pause. This global crisis has turned the spotlight on how world leaders provide answers to the media in live press conferences, interviews and digital town halls. I have also witnessed how questions have the capacity to throw off an otherwise smooth conversation at work, church, training sessions and home.
Years ago, a staff meeting gave me a valuable lesson in questions and answers. It was one of those ‘tests’ where you are forced to reflect on your thought process which resulted in a ‘grade’ which your parents would say “could have been better” if you had just paused to think it through.
Thankfully, I have a team that I rely on to hold me accountable and they did not disappoint. Since then I am happy to report that I have gotten much better ‘grades’.
As world leaders, CEOs, Department Heads, etc, one must get used to the question and answer segment. As trainers, church leaders and even parents your responses to questions whether in writing or verbally, must be handled adeptly. There is the temptation to get either defensive or dismissive as we see happening on the world stage. But no, as a leader of excellence, you will be guided by the principles of respect, honesty, integrity, humility and self-management.
Here are some reminders:
The person posing the question is not always asking on behalf of himself/herself, so don’t create stories in your head about the questioner and “don’t shoot the messenger.”
Assess the spirit behind the question. Is this question driven by fear, ignorance or genuine concern? Asking yourself this question will help you to better craft your answer, always mindful to do so with respect and empathy.
If you suspect there is an ulterior motive behind the question, ensure that you are above reproach in the professional, objective, and temperate response. This applies in all relationships. Substitute ‘professional’ for dignified if you think it does not fit. Ensure that you can be comfortable with yourself when that conversation with your child, spouse, best friend or church member comes to an end.
Your body language including facial expressions speak louder than words. People tend to assess these responses harsher. Be careful not to build up stories in your head to the point where you respond with annoyance, bitterness, suspicion, anger or hostility.
Ask a follow up question before answering in order to clarify your thoughts and that of the questioner or give your interpretation of the question to ensure you are on the right track with the answer to come.
If you are responding by email, ensure your tone is appropriate and spend the time to choose your words wisely. Spend a moment in their shoes – as the recipient of the answer.
Interviews or other Q & A sessions are opportunities to get your side of the story told. Embrace them.
As leaders of excellence, be sure to shine these leadership lights on your next question and answer journey.