Dear Yesterday’s Self,
There’s a line between helping and smothering, and you’ve crossed it. Recently you attended a training hosted by a team member on a familiar topic. On previous occasions you’ve led the training, but this time you were there to support the presenter and hear audience questions. During the presentation, you were surprised by a procedure being shown and interrupted to correct the presenter. Instead of being helpful, this led to you stealing attention and fielding subsequent questions that the presenter was fully capable of handling. Not surprisingly, the presenter was a bit flustered by the interruption. To make things worse, you later learned that the different procedure was intentional and not a mistake after all. You failed to give team members space to grow by not allowing the presenter to try her own way.
Note to self: Be humble, recognize that your way is not the only way, and give your team members their own creative space.
At one point I decided I wanted to exercise more regularly. I was convinced that my failure to exercise thus far was caused by a lack of resources to help motivate me and was unrelated to self discipline. I found a user-friendly app with a nice variety of exercises and stretches. I downloaded it excitedly and was glad to have a resource to assist with my goal.
As it turns out, it’s really easy to ignore a small icon on your phone. I used the app exactly zero times.
Note to self: External resources don’t automatically make you succeed. Developing self discipline requires an internal commitment.
I once returned from a party carrying a large box. It was late at night, so I set the box by the back door to deal with in the morning. The next day, I didn't feel like moving the box. I left it by the door. Fast forward four weeks, and the box was still at my back door. Before you start calling me lazy and other names, I should mention that I stopped seeing it. For two days I told my brain to ignore the box, and then after that, my brain obliged by no longer reporting its existence. I moved along merrily without seeing or caring about it. That changed when I started preparing for out-of-town company. When I surveyed the house to determine what needed to be tidied, I instantly saw the box. I put on the perspective of "home inspector" and easily saw the out-of-place item.
Pause for a moment to take this in. Different perspectives allow you to see different things. It sounds so simple, but the implications of this are enormous. What exists in your own life that you can't currently see?
I attended a meeting once where I disagreed with how my coworker was conducting it. Instead of gently redirecting the discussion or privately bringing up my concerns afterwards, I called the person a name right in front of everyone. It was an impulse to release some tension and perhaps shock my coworker into changing direction. I meant no real offense, but it was completely off-base for workplace communication and I derailed the whole meeting. The remaining conversation was awkward, tense, and unproductive.
Note to self: You can undo months' worth of work in seconds when you're not careful with how you interact with others.
I can't deny I accumulated baggage during the job's duration. There was a project that failed. There was a decision I regretted. There was the memory of a time a coworker snapped at me in a meeting. And the memory of the time I snapped back. I struggled with how to live in the present moment and how to shed the heaviness I felt. I desperately craved inspiration for overcoming the past.
I thought about the ease of starting over. A clean Inbox. All new relationships with people. A fresh perspective on projects with no memories of previous failures.
Then I remembered the time a wasp built a nest in my mailbox. The day after we knocked it down, the wasp rebuilt in the exact same spot. As far as I could tell, the wasp wasn't upset about the past or disgruntled about its current situation. It seemed driven to do what needed to be done. I admired its ability to live in the present.
I challenged myself to reset my own outlook. To walk in the door with the optimism of a new team member. To shove aside unhelpful memories. To face my role with new thoughts and renewed energy.
I tend to replay my day in my head when I'm driving home. I reflect to an extent on what went well, but mostly it's a reflection on what didn't go well. I think this is an important exercise toward becoming a better leader.
Where did I rush someone who was trying to tell me something important? Where did I choose words that caused anxiety instead of spreading calm? Where did I side-step something that needed to be said but that felt too difficult in the moment?
Reflecting on these points in no way assures that I'll get it right the next time, but I believe it moves me a step closer to being the kind of leader I want to be.