As parents one of our important jobs is to motivate our kids to their fullest potential. I listen to my daughter answer the teacher’s questions incorrectly, when I know she knows the answer or at least has something closer. She is not listening or focusing, or whatever… I question how to encourage her to do her best work, without stressing her out, or making her think my love is conditional on getting things perfectly. I want her to be responsible and do her best work, but I also want her to know that this is a supportive family, that her value and what she brings to the family dynamic is not based on the right answer.
Sound a bit like leadership? We want our employees and those we lead to be and bring their best selves and produce their greatest widget. We think they are awesome, that’s why we hired them, right? We are running a company, we need innovative, motivated, smart, hardworking people (etc.). For some leaders I have experienced this is a challenge (mostly the challenge is for their employees, they have yet to recognize it).
I had a boss many, many moons ago who would bring me to tears. Literally. I know you are not supposed to cry in the workplace, but whatever. 29-year-old me was still navigating that (secret – I am still navigating that, and if anyone cried in front of me, I would not view that as a sign of weakness. If you don’t care about something, you don’t cry about it either). But any way back to, let’s call him Peter… he was a bully. He was the boss of the bosses, the highest person in the office. It felt like I couldn’t do anything right. If my experience brought a different viewpoint or way of doing something (even at 29 I had experience) we would have a whole lengthy, intense discussion about it. Every day I was doubting what I knew, how I went about doing it, and why they even hired me for this job. PS, it was not an entry job. I finally asked him, took all my courage, to say “do you not think I can do this job? Is there is an issue about how I am handling things or myself in this role?” Peter’s response. “Of course not. Why would you think that?” I gave him a few examples of what I considered ‘run ins’ we had. He said, “no way, don’t we get to a better outcome when we engage like that? Doesn’t this curious dialogue produce a better result?” I thought, well yes, all that may (or may not) be true. But at what cost??? His idea of what was ‘healthy’, curious, provoking dialogue was just a tad different from what I thought as ‘healthy’. It didn’t matter that I “knew” it wasn’t personal, which I also think is BS. We are people, it is all personal. Pushing someone when they are clearly uncomfortable with it (remember the tears) or shut down (I am a fleer) is not getting them to their highest performance. Let’s just say that was not my favorite job. It isn’t in my nature to half a$$, so I was mostly resentful. Fortunately, life circumstances changed, and my husband got in job in the beautiful Bay Area, so we moved to San Francisco and I quit that job. Although they kept me on for 2 more months flying back and forth, guess I wasn’t all bad….
Throughout all this I had a supportive husband who would pump me up or talk me off the ledge. Colleagues who saw and experienced what I did. I would chat with them, and they saw my work and would help restore my confidence. Thank goodness for the people I chose to connect with to offset what I was experiencing M-F 8-5. Resounding reassurance of surrounding yourself with people who understand and are kind to you. In life and in work. I have some of the best friends in the world (if I do say so myself). They see me. They are supportive. They think about me. I don’t mean to say, they don’t give me the hard talk too. But they do it in a way that will speak to me and doesn’t crush my spirit, vision, or sense of self. They want to inspire me and lift me up, while also sharing different perspectives. I want to be clear. I am not opposed to differing opinions or ways of doing things, quite the opposite, I think there is always another way to do something, or its at least worth exploring. But finding these alternative ways should not come at a cost to someone feeling less than, put down, inferior, or brought to tears.
I don’t want to get all gendery, but I will for a moment, we woman tend to be harder on each other, thinking this world is somehow a competition. Possibly from the good ole Miss America days, where they can only be one winner on the podium. Incorrect! There is room for all of us successful, kick a$$ chicks. We all have our definition of success and we need to be helping each other get there, not feeling insecure about someone else’s success. I have 3 girlfriends from college, the 4 musketeers. I am D’Artagnan since they were together before me, I was the late add. They are all superstar collegiate, fit, gorgeous athletic swimmers, who let me into their posse. I suspect I was allowed in because I could swim well enough to pass the life guarding test. The mental fortitude with being a college athlete is beyond anything I can comprehend. Wait… maybe I can… I am super hard on myself too! So turns out we do have a lot in common. We all have chosen different paths for ourselves. One is an East Coaster, State Trooper (I know hard core, right), 2 girls, athletic, pilot hubby. Always on the go, getting #%it done! Another is the picture of a hard-working mama, bringing home the bacon with a company she has been loyal to for 20 years, and frying it up for her hubby and daughter. Baking and taking care of her home. The third, an ex-pat, living in the Pacific Northwest, passionate, brilliant architect. Goes camping one weekend with her boys and the next weekend flying off to Vegas with her baseball hubby decked out to the nines. And then there is me. You know enough about me. The four of us have had to switch to zoom meetings every other week, because our trips to see each other twice a year, have been cancelled. We have different politics, different religions, different finances, different upbringings, and yet this 22 plus year friendship is still going strong. These are my go-to gals. The first people I call to share or think though the major life stuff. We lift each other up, and like I said, still have the hard conversations. We owe it to each other to have difficult conversations, and yet we can still do it in a way that is supportive, kind, compassionate, honest, and loving. I still scratch my head as to why there are still leaders like Peter, who think the best outcome needs to come at a cost to someone else. When companies talk about diversity in the workplace, they are not only talking about the racial and gender make up (although that is of course a major part of it), it is about diversity of thought, emotion, interpretation, and experiences. People in leadership roles also need to be aware of their power. We live in a hierarchical society and some of us (me) are not able to throw that to wind and say whatever we think. “High tides lift all boats”, “it’s not pie”, or any other ism, to highlight we don’t need to put someone else down, or give them a smaller piece, so we are bigger.
Just like we want our kids to perform in school at the highest level they are capable of, I want my kid to feel supported, listened to, knowing she can always show her shortcomings or mistakes with me. I want that for those I manage, and I want that in a boss. I want people who interact with me to feel energized and positive by our time together. Cheers to great friends and colleagues.