To me the values of a good leader are communicated through the small things. Even though I believe this is true, more often than not I get to the end of the workday and realize I've misused my time. Sure, I'll have gotten things done, but I may have failed to do the stuff that matter most.
I may have neglected to:
- Send a 'thank you' message to a coworker who recently improved something around the office.
- Communicate appreciation to the team member who volunteered when no one else did.
- Ask how the intern's big school project turned out.
- Do a quick lap around the office to see if anything can be straightened up or made to look better.
- Tell a coworker thanks for speaking up during the morning meeting when I had wanted to say something similar but couldn't come up with the words.
These may not be on my "official" work responsibilities list, but I firmly believe that improving the environment and recognizing people for great things is as important if not more so.
I can't stand referring to employees as "resources". I fully get that employees are resources in that they have an output and a cost, but even the word "employee" bugs me because it emphasizes too much that a person is being employed (and therefore paid) to do a task. The human side is completely lost. Let's stop saying employee and resource altogether.
Organizations are made up of people. We all walk in the door with personal lives, baggage, unique skills, personality traits, and individual desires.
Let's adopt the phrase "team member". "Team" because we're working together and will fail if we don't, and "member" because we're part of something and each playing a role. Let's reserve "resources" for inanimate objects.
I once received a glowing compliment via email. The sender's words seemed warm and genuine. I appreciated both the recognition and the person who took the time to send the kind words. I spent the rest of my day relaxed and inwardly smiling. The glow carried into the next day until a wave of embarrassment hit me. When did I last send someone else a "thank you" of that magnitude? When did I last offer a compliment that lasted hours? When did I last validate another's strengths so fully? When did I last do any of those things… and have I ever?
Did I ever tell you about the time I gave up my seat to imaginary people? I had been invited to a small, prestigious event and felt honored, albeit nervous, to be included. When I arrived a few minutes prior to the start, there were 6 seats remaining, 5 in a prime location and 1 awkward one off to the side. I quickly thought about who else was possibly attending, felt unworthy of the prime seats, and grabbed the awkward one. While this may sound polite, imagine my sheepishness when the event started and the other spots all remained open.
Note to self: An invited guest is welcome to take a good seat. If someone arrives later and you want to pay deference, you can always kindly offer them the spot. Next time, strike a balance between humility and self confidence.
Dear Yesterday's Self,
Let's have a serious talk about why people procrastinate, and in particular, why you procrastinate. You began the day by looking at the top three items you needed to accomplish. The items varied in complexity, but all three were reasonable to finish in a couple of hours. All three items were due today, so you told yourself to complete them.
Throughout the day as you worked on the first and second items, you recognized that you were avoiding the third. It was the least desirable of the three, and you reminded yourself that you'd already planned to complete it. As the day went on and you continued to avoid the third item, your inner voice begged you to hold yourself accountable.
By the end of the day, not only did you not complete #3, you had not even started it. Why do you do things like that?! You knew #3 was due today. Even fifteen minutes of work would have lessened the remaining load. Sometimes I think you thrive on adrenaline to a fault. You knew that today you'd get a rush of energy from working against a deadline, but why do you always cut it so close? Make conscious decisions and then execute them!
One time a coworker brought a piece of paper to my office where I sat with my back to the door. When I turned to greet her, I was eye-level with the paper and immediately started scanning it and offering feedback. As our conversation wound down, I noticed she was wearing a bright, yellow scarf. What struck me was not the scarf itself, but the realization that I was many minutes into the conversation before I ever looked up at her eyes. I had failed to acknowledge her or engage with her visually while talking! This was a huge eye contact mistake. What a missed opportunity to make the person feel welcome or appreciated for the work she had done.
When I worked with individuals with disabilities, I was particularly close to a 30-something-year-old lady I'll call Debra. Debra was warm, thoughtful, fun-loving, and like most of us, happiest when she had the approval of those around her. We shared many happy memories, although from all our time together, the thing I remember most is the lesson she taught me about effective nonverbal communication.
One week we attended a church service with a group of other individuals with mild disabilities. During the service I was seated a row in front of Debra and a few seats down. At one point while the minister was speaking, I heard Debra whisper something to her neighbor and giggle. Feeling self-conscious already about our large group, I felt a flare of embarrassment and turned quickly to glare at Debra to try to stop the giggling. Debra fell instantly silent. Just as I was thinking "phew, I took care of that," I registered the look on Debra's face. Her eyes were downcast and her whole face crumpled at having disappointed me.
My choice of nonverbal communication had failed in its goal. In that moment I realized I could have instead turned quietly, made eye contact, and slowly shook my head. I had used my eyes as a weapon instead of a tool.