I need to be kind to myself and others. It’s always worth the effort, even in the midst of conflict and disagreement.
As I brought B his bedtime snack, he asked, “Dad, why do you do everything for me? Why don’t you get me to help with things, like making my own breakfast in the morning?”
“OK, I’ll start asking you to do more things,” I affirmed.
** Five Minutes Later **
“B, please put on your pajamas.”
“I need you to help me,” he yawned while playing with LEGO on his bed.
“You just said you want to start doing more things by yourself,” I responded.
“I know, but I still want you to help me put on my pajamas.”
As a leader, I recognize how important it is for me—and those leaders I follow—to discern how we express our leadership in the workplace. Similar to the Compline in the Christian tradition of the canonical hours, we can take time each evening to reflect on our day and review how we spoke and interacted with others. In addition, we can examine our motives to see whether we truly acted for the good of others or instead worked for personal gain or advantage. Then, in a gentle and non-judgmental manner, we can reflect on how to better lead others the following day. While I am not suggesting it is wrong for leaders to receive some benefit or merit, I do think that when we make decisions for personal advantage, we may in fact work against the collective good. I want to be a leader that is self-aware without being self-absorbed.
With this self-awareness comes recognition of our personal strengths and weaknesses. When leaders try to hide their weaknesses or limitations, we present ourselves as a model of perfection. Generally, this is accompanied by extremely high expectations of others in the workplace. While I don’t think leaders should go out of their way to highlight their flaws and imperfections, I appreciate the authenticity of leaders who demonstrate a degree of personal vulnerability. As a leader, I want people to recognize that I am a human being with feelings and challenges and failings who can relate to their own humanness as well.
Another aspect of vulnerability is the willingness to trust others with important tasks and responsibilities. Leaders are often viewed as the problem-solvers, but are generally far removed from both the problems and the knowledge necessary to solve them. Rather than micro-manage people, it is often far more effective for leaders to empower frontline staff to address problems head-on as these staff will recognize issues as they emerge and will know how to respond accordingly. This empowerment can happen when leaders identify the things we value, are most concerned with and want to see more of, which then leads us to build on people’s strengths as opposed to focusing on their weaknesses. In addition, leaders can promote positive growth by demonstrating appreciation and celebrating successes, which helps foster an organizational culture in which people feel pride about their accomplishments and are motivated to seek continuous improvement.
Empowerment does come at a risk, though, as leaders are ultimately accountable for results. However, leaders that utilize a strength-based approach are more likely to create a positive environment that promotes greater work performance and the improved well-being of employees. The benefits far outweigh the risks.
Trust, kindness, friendship, shared values and mutual attraction are all important components to a successful marriage, but this is the secret to a truly happy one: Hire a housekeeper. Although the cost may require you to work an extra year or two before retirement, you’ll likely never have to experience your spouse throwing a toilet brush at your head when they’ve just finished a few hours of housecleaning on a Saturday morning and you’ve just come home from a long run and tossed your sweaty clothes on the bathroom floor.
Of course, another solution is to not marry a slob, but frankly, that will do nothing to support job creation in the service industry, so I would strongly encourage couples who care about the economy and their marriage to follow the secret advice noted above.
I was 12 when I started my first job. It involved selling popcorn and cokes on a Saturday at the football stadium in Winnipeg. I was excited about the opportunity as I could make some money and also watch the Blue Bombers play.
My job involved carrying around a tray of soft drinks to sell to people watching the game in the stands. When I was almost finished one tray, I asked some of the other kids if I could leave a few of my drinks with them while I got another tray. I only did this because I saw the other young people doing the same thing to maximize their opportunity to make more sales early in the game.
When I came back to get the drinks I’d left, the other kids pretended that they didn’t know what I was talking about so that they could sell these drinks without having to cover any of the costs. When my father picked me up after the game, I had to tell him that I’d made no money as I had to pay the stadium back for the drinks that I’d lost. I’d worked for hours with nothing to show for it. My dad never let me work there again, so my first job only lasted one day.
When I was growing up, I was naïve and overly trusting, but experiences such as the football stadium job helped toughen me up so that I could protect myself from those who might try to take advantage of me in the future. It’s easy to take this toughness too far, though, and become cynical and distrustful of others. Now that I’m in my mid 40s, I’m finding that I need to allow myself to be more vulnerable and trusting of others, as this is a healthier and more fulfilling way to live. Yes, I will be taken advantage of at times and likely hurt by others, but it’s better to assume that people are good and generous than to expect the worse of them.
Today I ran with R as she completed her first full marathon. It was rainy and cold at the beginning, but she kept to a steady pace and ran strong from beginning to end. There were a few rough patches in the middle, but she remained focused on meeting the challenge before her throughout the race. I did my best to keep her motivated and moving and it was a precious gift to share in this experience.
I was excited to see how happy she became in the final few kilometres of the race as she got closer to completing her goal. We crossed the finish line together holding hands and then separated briefly as we received our finishing medals from the volunteers. When I looked over at her again I saw that she was crying and then she hugged me tightly. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “Nothing. I’m just so happy that I actually did it after training so hard for this race.”
In addition to filling me with immense pride for R, today’s race has also left me wondering whether there is a goal in my life audacious enough that accomplishing it would elicit tears of joy. Perhaps I need some bigger dreams.
I just arrived at a hotel where R and I are staying the night before her first marathon. Since I forgot my computer at home, I’m typing out today’s post on my phone (and starting to regret my decision to blog every day for a year).
Anyway, I’m reflecting on how proud I will be tomorrow as I witness R running just over 42 kilometres. A marathon is no easy feat, so completing this race will be a significant accomplishment which required many months of preparation.
It’s a privilege to journey with others as they take on challenges or face adversity. Whether supporting a spouse, child, family member, co-worker, neighbour, or someone needing assistance in the community, it’s a humbling and precious experience to accompany people in the midst of their victories and losses and on the paths they take to get there.
When we lived in Zimbabwe, I enjoyed visiting areas where local artists displayed their stone sculptures. Whether working with serpentine or soapstone or another form of mineral, the Shona sculptors possessed the ability to carve people, animals and intricate shapes from rough pieces of rock that they then smoothed and polished into beautiful pieces of art.
Before we returned to Canada, I purchased a number of Shona sculptures of various sizes, designs and colours that captured my interest. While most of our sculptures are polished and completed, my favourites are the ones that feature rough stone on the outer edges, showcasing the rawness of the original rock.
My most treasured piece of stone art, however, is a small and unfinished sculpture that I found in a junk pile. From the rear, it looks like an ordinary rock that wouldn’t warrant a second glance, but when you turn it around, you can see the carving of a man emerging from a dark cave. There is something so simple but yet profoundly human about the carving despite the fact that it was never completed. I’ve often wondered if the artist felt he messed up the carving and then decided it wasn’t worth salvaging.
I’m drawn to a similar rawness in other people. When they come across as too polished and complete, I feel as though there is something artificial or manufactured about them. They’re nice to look at and admire, but I can only guess at how they became that way. I like to discover a bit of the rough stone that they’ve been etched from as this portrays a work of art that is authentic, alluring and unfinished.