I definitely broke my personal rule number 1 this week. I often do this after an emotionally charged day where I feel like I couldn’t get anything right. I learned early in business school that you cannot change the behavior of the people around you, but you can change your behavior to influence those around you. I am normally pretty mindful of this and am able to check myself before I wreck myself, so to speak. So, what was different about this situation?
To give some back story, I am a super producer at my job. I am often looked upon to take up additional duties to drive the mission of the institution forward. I typically do this at 110%, wholeheartedly charging ahead because I do such meaningful work. Recently, we have been having discussions about the culture of our workplace and the toll the pandemic has taken on employee morale. I am sure there are similar conversations happening in some of your organizations as well. Several of my colleagues are frustrated and don’t feel like they are really being listened to by the leadership. Administrative burnout is high, so we brought a group together to lay out the top concerns in an effort to raise the issue with leadership and promote a discussion on solutions.
While leadership was receptive, they didn’t really listen. Our grievances were aired without prior notice by a couple representatives of the group. While we were grateful to have this hit the agenda for the leadership meeting at all, it seemed like these people were selected because they would filter the information in a way that was digestible to the leadership team. Troubled with the way this precious matter was handled, I spoke up in an email.
The great part about respectfully conveying my disappointment via email was that several of my colleagues were able to speak up too. I admired their courage in doing so, and was happy I could help them feel comfortable. The bad part was that the follow up to my email was on a video call in the heat of the moment during a larger meeting where the group was seemingly dismissing our disappointment (See ya later rule number 1). I clarified my statements and challenged the leadership to step up and really hear what we were trying to say. I watched as some waited for me to say my piece so they could hurry up and make a counter claim (again, not really listening). Frustrated and defeated, I went on with my day, constantly reflecting on what went wrong. How could I have changed my behavior to influence that group?
Bottom line, I felt like I fell short this week. We all do. It is impossible to get it right 100% of the time. So what can we do in these situations?
We can get up, dust ourselves off, and get out there again because it is worth it. We are worth it, and the people we lead are worth it. Recently I read the book Think Again by Adam Grant, and one of the many huge takeaways is to find the joy in failing because it gives us the opportunity to learn and improve. What an amazing sentiment.
With this in mind, I was able to thoughtfully connect with my colleagues and humbly explain my points. They were very supportive, and thanked me for my bravery and honesty when speaking to the executive leadership team. They said it opened the door for real transparency and will enable us to start from a truer baseline. Humility, honesty and courage paved the way to the beginning of real change. While my perception of the events was a failure on my part; I could have done better. The result was better than anticipated in the encouragement of my peers to be bold.
One of my best friends gave me this quote by Theodore Roosevelt after an exceptionally difficult day. So many nuggets in this one too, but the one that hits the hardest is, “if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly),” I am grateful I had this opportunity this week, and I hope you find the courage to do the same if the situation presents itself.
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