Why Grease a Squeaky Wheel

Have you ever noticed that the one who whines loud enough and often enough typically gets what they want? Well, if you’re a parent you might be looking at this with a judgmental cocked eyebrow, I would never, you can’t give in to whining. Yeah, I get it (I’m certain I’ve pulled out a *groan* go ask your dad after the whining which is just another way to give in) but think about adults. Think about the woman at the in the urgent care waiting room constantly telling the front desk employee how long she’s been waiting and while it is a shorter time than others in the room she gets to see a doctor first. Think about the man in the restaurant who never seems satisfied with his drink, the sun coming through the window, his food, or the timeliness of his check. The waiter seems to just circle around his table leaving long spans between getting to the other customers. Then there is the ‘squeaky wheel’ in your own mind, the dusting that isn’t done, the garage organization that needs to happen, the dishes in the sink. Which ever one of those squeaks the loudest will get your attention and actually get completed while the others remain the same for weeks. The most frustrating for a lot of us is when it happens at work. One Squeaky Sam has all of their ideas taken and run with. It seems that every top priority of theirs is fixed and all other work comes to a halt when Squeaky Sam has a need.

Being a people leader, I get two different perspectives on this. The first is that I have a team where people are consistently coming up with ideas or bringing forth solutions to gaps that they or I have found. When you are encouraging people to bring up solutions or project ideas and then prioritizing how and when the work will get done, there is more opportunity for people to see it as one or two people always have their ideas taken and worked. The other vantage point I have is from my peers. My teams complete many projects for those throughout the department. Some of the requests from my peers come directly to me others go to my boss or above and come back down to me as directives. Meaning, there are instances where I am both giving into the squeaky wheel and where I am pulling the corporate version of go ask your dad to direct them to higher leadership who can decide if this is a priority.

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What I can tell you from this experience is that, like so many other things, corporate squeaky wheel syndrome is very much so the same as with your kids or with whiny people in the waiting room or restaurant. There are times where you are the ‘unjust judge’ and are giving in just because you can’t listen to it anymore, I admit it. Much more often though it is because persistence pays off. Let’s take an example. Say we have Passive Patti and Squeaky Sam (spoiler alert, Same will get what he wants) and each of them want separate new software purchased for the team. They both have compelling reasons they should have it and present their request to the boss. Passive Patti lays out 5 points on why it would be a good investment to use the software she found. Squeaky Sam lays out the same 5 points regarding his software. When Patti follows up she asks her boss if she’s made a decision, boss says no, I’m not sure there is budget for the new software, and the conversation ends. When Sam asks, the boss says the same. Sam states that this software will save money in the long run and then reiterates his 5 points. The next day Sam comes to the boss and has more info on future cost savings and offers 2 new points he happened to come across in his look at cost savings. The next week, the boss asks for any further updates on the proposals. Patti states that she’s already given her 5 points and didn’t realize it was moving forward. Sam repeats the original 5 points, the cost savings information, and notes that he’d also like to look into the 2 things he came across

From Patti’s perspective Sam was just the squeaky wheel. From the boss’ perspective Sam did more research and was more focused on the success of the project. Truly, Sam did a tiny bit more work but mostly he was a consistent voice that was able to address roadblocks. Sam also learned a ton from those few interactions for the next project or suggestion. Patti on the other hand will start even further at a disadvantage because she’s never had the conversations to know her boss’ style, what roadblocks she’s most concerned with, what outside factors are impacting her ability to do the work or make a decision.

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The person who looks like the squeaky wheel outwardly often times looks like the one with the most knowledge and most invested to the decision maker (the boss in our example). Because of their close contact they are able to speak in a way that makes the most sense to the decision maker and respond to any push back. This can undoubtedly be frustrating to others however it something that can be overcome with patience and persistence. The next time there is a problem to be solved, try respectfully and tactfully squeaking a little louder yourself. Know that you may not have success the first time, as we saw Squeaky Sam gained credibility and valuable knowledge about how the boss worked from each ‘win’. However, with some intentionality and attention to detail in her action, Passive Patti can make quick gains.

Gratitude vs Hustle

I’ve read and watched and heard a lot lately about pushing, hustling, chasing all of the things that get you closer to living your ideal life. I know that to some extent I asked for that. I mean, that’s what the social algorithms do. They fill your feed with what you, in some sense, asked for with click monitoring, search history, and even seeing where your scrolling slowed down. However, I also think the ‘hustle’ mentality is to some extent a sign of the times. Spending more time reflecting over the past year and identifying what you want or don’t want in your life, and what is truly important to you, has helped many people to lean further in one or a couple prioritized areas of life (leaning in might be a better word for hustling).

Still, not everyone is on board. Not everyone agrees with going hard in any one area of life. I’ve heard it described as selfish when someone truly goes all in on improving their health. I’ve heard it described as greedy when someone pours into their work. I’ve even heard it described as lazy or ‘quitting’ when someone decides to stay home with their children. None of those phase me too much, other than to say that the speaker clearly has some unresolved jealousy, resentment, or fear to be saying things like this. There was one recently though that stopped me and made me think. As I was describing my own areas I was leaning into and talking about what my close friends were doing, the person I was talking to said, ‘I don’t want to hustle I am too grateful for what I have.‘ This comment was different from the others because that person wasn’t trying to put anyone down. She was encouraging to all in their endeavors but felt that there wasn’t a place for this in her story because she was content and grateful for what she has.

My husband and our big man years ago planting trees to improve on a piece of land we were so blessed to be able to buy.

So is hustle the absence of gratitude? Does it mean you’re not content or that you don’t see the beauty of where you are at this moment? Are they mutually exclusive? Is gratitude better than hustle? Is it OK to hustle while remaining grateful for what you have? If you are content do you need to keep pushing?

I would tell you unequivocally that you can hold both, gratitude and hustle are not mutually exclusive ideas. Note that I said you can, not everyone does but you certainly can. There are people who push, hustle, or maintain their drive based on a mentality that there is not enough (money, love, resources, etc) to go round (also known as scarcity mindset) so they have to push to ‘get their fair share’. Those people are typically pushing without gratitude because they are so focused on getting what they ‘deserve’ that they forget what they have. That doesn’t mean though that you can’t be grateful for what you have or where you’re at while you’re pushing for more. Further than that, I would whole heartedly advocate for getting to the top of the mountain you’re climbing, taking a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come, and how incredible the view is from up there. The next step though, after you’ve drank it all in, is to find the next mountain. I touched on this a little in a prior post, When is Enough, Enough?. You may have surpassed all of your prior goals or even made all your original dreams come true, that is just a prompt to keep dreaming.

The ultimate in holding both gratitude and the longing to go deeper. My big guys, who could have made my heart burst out of my chest, before we decided to try for the little cutie at the top. I was so content with the life we had but knew we needed just one thing more.

If you’re rolling your eyes at me thinking yeah but I don’t want to have a ‘side hustle’ because I’m content and that is OK! I would say, you bet it is! You go ahead (not that you ever needed my permission) and own exactly where you’re at without adding a thing, but do continue to grow. Know that leaning in, pushing, and hustling doesn’t have to mean starting your own company and building your hobby into an empire. I mean, maybe it does and that’s cool. Build your slice of heaven off creating adorable wooden gnomes and selling them at craft fairs and on the internet, power to you. Keep in mind though it could also mean hustling in creating an amazing season of life for your family. It could mean pushing your level of volunteerism or becoming laser focused at work bringing the best of your gifts and talents whether you’re getting paid or not. It could mean leaning in to your faith or spirituality and finding ways to be held by something bigger than yourself to limit your anxiety or pain. There is something amazing that happens when you lean all the way into something and drive that part of your life up. Be grateful and content with exactly where you’re at but don’t let that stop you from everywhere you could go.

Focus Where You Want To Be

When you think about Drivers Ed what is the first thing that comes to mind? The fear and sheer shock that goes along with your kid being able to drive? The excitement that comes from being behind the wheel and showing your friends your skills? The stress of all of the little things they teach you in the classroom and behind the wheel and the added stress of realizing that is only a very small fraction of what you actually need to know. One thing they do teach you, in small towns in Wisconsin anyway, is how to recovery when you start sliding on ice. In the Drivers Ed car on a back road, while driving at a fairly slow rate of speed, the instructor would pull the emergency break without warning causing the car to slide sideways. He would then calmly instruct you to look where you want the car to go and steer to that location. Starting to slide, panicking in your head while listening to the calming voice, and recovering the car to carry on your merry way brought on all the fear, shock, stress, and excitement you could handle.

Now I’ll be honest, I was not a good driver in the beginning. I didn’t care for it, was not great at it, had a decent sized group of friends and an older sister that could get me where I needed to be so I put off getting my license. I didn’t put it off for a crazy long time, only a year or so max, but I definitely wasn’t a kid who was chomping at the bit of ‘freedom’ with my license. That meant that I spent a lot of time riding with friends reflecting on what we all learned and how they applied it. (I say reflecting now but lets face it I was 16, it was judgement.) One thing that frequently stood out to me was that no one seemed to heed the advice of the instructor to look where you want to go. If there was ice, they looked at the ice and where we could end up, if there was a deer they stared into the trees looking for more, if there was traffic they got focused and stressed by the cars immediately around them. People always seemed to be looking at the problem at hand or worse yet, what could go wrong in the situation. It was more than just looking too. I mean, I know you’re supposed to be aware of the hazards obviously. You slow down for icy and snowy roads, you scan the ditches for deer, you drive defensively in traffic, yup all of that but you don’t have to focus on it to be aware of it.

Keeping focused on the light at the end of that tunnel. Only a little further to home.

It will come as no surprise that I think of that advice often, many years later, and how it applies to life in general. There have been far too many times in life that I have been focused on what isn’t working in my career, in my relationships, health, or faith. I have looked so hard at the problem that I missed all of the solutions that are sitting just outside of that one point. Couple with that, many times I didn’t even know where it was I wanted to go (I just knew I wasn’t happy) and you’re really in for a tailspin. I mean, if you don’t know where you’re intending to be, how can you do anything but stare at the problem, hazard, pain, (insert whatever word makes the most sense to you)? In a car that part is easy, the road is literally laid out for you, but in life, you have to pick your own path.

Let’s consider another example a little more recent. Not terribly long ago I was stuck in a job that wasn’t so bad but I was pretty over it. I was working a lot of hours on a job that wasn’t challenging but just had a lot to do and I knew there was more I could offer. Over the years since I had gotten in the groove there I had started looking to advance, not knowing what I wanted to do just that I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be on the phone all the time. I didn’t want to be the recipient of all the changes without a voice. I didn’t want to be yelled at for things outside of my control. I started applying out to anything and everything that came available and made the same or more money than I was making. Getting into those interviews I talked a lot about what I could do in my old job but that it was terrible and why I didn’t like it. Not a one of those people was going to hire me and that made me start to panic and look outside the organization. I was essentially doubling down on my focus on the hazards and the negatives. It wasn’t until I decided where I wanted to be and started to explain how my skills could benefit that role that I found my right next step and was hired.

I was working so many hours on things I cared nothing about. I knew I needed a change but that was literally all I knew.

So yes, be aware of the problems, the negatives, the things you would change if you could but don’t focus there. Just be aware enough to support you in developing your road, where you want to go and how to get there. Then, when you start to feel things sliding, when you hear that panicked chatter in your head, listen instead for the calm voice, look where you want to go, and steer yourself to that location.

Building Courage

I got a question recently around courage. First, I want you to let that word sit with you a minute. Courage. What does that word mean to you? What feeling does it conjure inside of you? What do you picture? To be completely honestly I typically get the image of the muscle bound movie characters that seems to know everything, be everything, run into battle or a burning building without batting an eye. Is that what you think of too? Someone who looks like they could handle it all? Someone who exudes confidence and charisma? Someone who laughs in the face of danger? What feeling does that bring out for you? In an instant do you feel like, That’s me! I jump into all things new and scary. Let.me.at.em. OK many of us not, right? For me, it typically brings out a mixture of stress and admiration. It’s a combination of Look at them! They could just walk through fire! I wish I could do that. Oh my…. I hope no one expects me to do that… Does that sound familiar to you too?

As I wrestled with the concept of courage more, I tried to take it down to a more basic level. I mean, does it have to be walking into a burning building? Risking your life to save another? Quitting your job to pursue your passion? I know I’ve seen people look incredibly courageous by allowing their kid to climb a tree that is causing them anxiety. I’ve seen people display courage by walking into a meeting prepared to share their knowledge in the presentation. I’ve seen people show courage by having a difficult conversation with someone close to them. Despite what we all might come up with for what courage means the true definition of courage is actually pretty simple; the ability to act in the face of fear. That is all it is, action. Not action with a smile on your face. Not perfect action with no mistakes. Not even overcoming the fear to act. Just doing the thing (doing anything really) regardless of how you’re feeling.

This was a huge act of courage for me. Allowing my kids to be on the ice when I am terrified of people falling through. Trust me, it did not look courageous.

OK fine. I can do that. I can be courageous by just acting but I want to step that up. I don’t want to be trembling with fear as I take the first step. I want to feel courageous too. I want to fit the image in my head of what a person with courage looks like, and they don’t look like the guy nervously twiddling his fingers while he stutters through his presentation. What if I’m not built to be courageous? Well lucky for you, that is not a thing. Courage is another in a long line of buildable muscles like adaptability and mindset. All you need to do is treat it like a muscle. How do you build a muscle? By working it, you give it reps to the point of fatigue and occasionally test your limits.

First, do the thing that scares you. That doesn’t have to be anything huge it can be taking on small opportunities to trying something new that is outside your comfort zone. Remember, we’re doing reps here so manageable amounts on a consistent basis. Maybe for you it looks like raising your hand to add your thoughts in a class or meeting. Maybe it looks like letting your kids do the thing that they might get hurt while doing. Maybe it is making the call to set up the coffee date that turns into a mentorship. Maybe its going swimsuit shopping in the store with the fluorescent lights and the three way mirror. Whatever it looks like for you, make sure it isn’t a one and done. The point is to continue to consistently act in the face of fear. Even if it isn’t pretty at first or you get shot down or the fear materializes and you really do see yourself from the worst angle on the fattest day, just act and keep up the reps.

My middle little guy being (and looking) incredibly courageous as he climbed to the tallest point in Wisconsin with a terrible fear of heights.

Then, reflect on what took courage. Sometimes it is difficult to see our own courage in the moment. We are either just getting the work done and not thinking about how much we’re stretching, or we’re so scared that to equate that moment to courage sounds ridiculous. Remember though, you acted. When I, and others that I’ve discussed it with, do this I find a curve. It starts with a huge volume of courageous moments. Some planned, and some not. Some wins, and some not. Some I’d like to do over to either improve on or experience again, and some definitely not. After a while though the frequency starts to decrease. Do you know why? Because some of the things that seemed so scary before that I was practicing on were no longer scary and didn’t actually require as much, or any, courage.

Keep in mind that while you might not envision yourself as the muscle bound movie star running toward the challenge and exuding the courageous character and charisma all the way, that doesn’t mean you don’t look that way to someone else. Seeing your action in the face of fear, seeing you build that muscle up, is inspiring to other people who are wanting to do the same thing. Be an encouragement to them. You’re not just acting in the face of fear for you, you’re doing it for all of the people who are watching from the side lines and from their own place in the race. Be a help to them and know that even if you don’t see them, they do see you.

Protect and Respect Your Boundaries

A little while back I talked about creating boundaries. We went through what it meant to set a boundary and I suggested that you create your ideal week (or maybe couple of weeks) so that you could take inventory and make a plan on what your boundaries would look like. If you missed that one, go back and read Set the Boundary because today we are building on it. It is one thing to set your intentions, make a plan, and commit to following through and it’s another thing entirely to actually follow through on it. So this week I want you to take your ideal week calendar (and if you haven’t done it yet for the love just take the 15 minutes and do it) and review how closely you came to following it. What did you do? What did you not do? Would the ideal change? Were you not even close because “reality” took over?

This was my real life ideal from last summer. I’ll admit I was shocked at the amount of white space. It did change a bit as I tried to put it into practice.

I know the first week after I had understood my ideal week I was annoyed that other people messed it up. My kids didn’t go to bed well so that cut into time to get some cleaning done. People at work scheduled meetings over lunch on days that I had blocked to workout. I got emails and messages at all hours of the day that needed to be responded to. My friends weren’t available on the same nights I had planned to set up time with them. The whole thing was frustrating enough to just say, yeah this doesn’t work, people don’t respect my boundaries and real life doesn’t work the way I want ‘ideally’.

That my friends is what is called a copout. That is childish and lazy. Also, that is exactly what I did at first. Things didn’t work the way I wanted them to so I quit. Which was just silliness really, so when I realized that I took another approach, inspired (as usual in my own personal development) by my kids. I would need to model it.

Kids watch everything we do and regardless of what our words are, what we do is what they learn. If I shout at them to “STOP YELLING” it’s not exactly effective. If I take a deep breath before I lose my mind they eventually learn to do the same (it doesn’t take as long as you think). So in this instance I determined that blocking the time on my calendar was just telling people I was busy. Accepting the meeting and responding to the email were modeling that I don’t respect my time so it is OK that no one else does either. Think about that. If you say that you’re off line, but you’re constantly replying and joining or changing plans to make it work it is obvious that you don’t care. Most people will not take the time to account for your needs if you don’t. I am not saying I could never be flexible but setting the standard is critical. Declining the meeting or suggesting a new time is OK in most situations. Not responding to the email until you’re actually working is also OK in most situations. On the areas that I truly could not control I needed to make some decisions around what I could. For example, if my kids don’t go to bed well perhaps they need to start winding down sooner. If my friends aren’t available maybe I need to start planning things earlier to swap out different nights in the week or month.

Full out modeling in the ‘play’ portion of our Sunday.

My point is this, we do a lot of blaming people for not respecting our boundaries, crossing our boundaries, and failing to respect our priorities. Most often we need to start with the person in the mirror and make sure that we’re protecting them and respecting them first. Then consider if other people are seeing you do it. Are you modeling the behavior? Finally, in the situations that feel like you have no control, figure out what you do have control over. How can you better advocate for yourself? How can you better prepare and be flexible without falling apart?

Working With the Next Generation

What does the work world think of this next generation (looking at the 17-35 year olds out there) coming into the work place? You don’t need a study or poll to tell you that the majority of them consider the group to be over educated, addicted to technology, entitled ‘kids’, who expect to be hired into high level positions and advance immediately. I hear all the time that ‘no one wants to work anymore’, or ‘they want to make six figures to play on social media’, or ‘they wasted money on a fancy degree’, or ‘they have no experience/they don’t know the real world.’ It comes from all different industries too. I hear these same types of comments from people in the trades, financial industries, health care, and manufacturing. Could it really be that the group of people entering the work force and rising up in it really are as bad as they’re made out to be?

Now by pure survey, I must be wrong because I am always out voted but let’s just pretend for argument sake that I am right. This group doesn’t look for a stable job that pays a fair wage and offers comparable benefits. They see these things as tent stakes that should be a given for any employer and they are looking for more. They are looking to make an impact both at the company and in the world. They are looking to actually balance work and life, bringing their best to both, rather than to one or the other. They are willing to hustle and work long hours in one season if they can see a need and that it won’t last forever. This group of people have actually found a way to know their self worth, highlight and support their passions, and do so in a way that provides innovative solutions to the companies they work for. What I’ve seen first hand from this demographic is that they are incredibly driven on things that are important to them and need help with the structure and guidance on how the mundane affects the bigger goal. We know how to create structure. Heck, creating structure is what the Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers are all about! Reframing that perspective actually makes the ‘kids’ sound like employees we’d be searching after right? If we looked at it that way we’d want to bring them in in droves. We could help them connect the dots to why our companies fit their missions and engage them in work that feels critical to advancing their passions.

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Oh wait, that flipped the script, we tell them why our company is right for them and not ask them to justify why they are right for us? Yes, connect those dots. Think about it. If you have a teacher who understood social media and was motivated to love on students, couldn’t you engage them in building an antibullying movement for your school or district? If you had a construction worker who was creative and passionate about the environment, couldn’t you engage them in decreasing the amount of waste materials on the job site and training others to do the same? If you had a life insurance salesperson who was an advocate for whole health couldn’t you engage them in campaigns to promote health and wellness to your policy holders? If you had people working with you in any sector that had a strong understanding of social media and how marketing and organizing on those platforms works couldn’t you engage them to use that to advance the business through advertising, sharing customer feedback, and broadening your network? If their strengths are to be creative, connect people, drive toward a higher purpose and yours are to technical skills built through experience in your industry and an understanding of the structure and business side, you could certainly work well with them. That combination could be unstoppable.

These are ways to bring them in and to keep them with you and advancing to get to that ‘unstoppable’ place but you do have to flip your script. You do have to look at it from a standpoint of selling to them how your company is advancing in local and universal movements. You do have to truly respect and encourage them to have lives apart from work. You do have to find ways for them to fuel their passions through work. Gone are the days where people just come in and do their job every day for 30 years, and you know what, that is a good thing! Leading these ‘kids’ well brings about innovation, more ideas, improved results, and so much more. They will no longer just ‘do the job’ they’ll find a way to blow the job out of the water which will have a lasting impact even if they’re only in the role for a few years. Reframe your perspective and stretch your own strengths, and you’ll find an incredible asset in this new and emerging workforce.

Coaching Up

I learned the term ‘coaching up’ only a couple years ago and just like when you buy a new car, I have since heard it everywhere. If you are like I was not too long ago and thinking, that’s an actual term? I’ll explain. Coaching up is when you offer feedback and development potential to someone who is above you in the chain. So you suggest to your boss a better way to handle a certain situation or you give feedback to a senior in the organization on a way to improve their delivery of information. Some of you are thinking, oh ok that makes sense, and others (eyes wide) are thinking, you can do that?! You can and it is greatly needed sometimes. Dare I say it is even our responsibility to coach up as our leaders can’t possibly see, know, and understand everything. They have blind spots and someone who cares about the success of the team as a whole and the individual would help them to see those areas clearly.

So sweet, let’s recap, coaching up is developing your manager and above, it’s important to success, it’s also, as you can imagine, difficult to do. I mean, can you imaging coming to your leaders to tell them that they made a mistake, could improve x y or z, or are repeatedly doing something wrong? That is heavy. How will they react? Will they project it all back on you? Will they retaliate in some way? What if you’re wrong and that really is the right way to handle something and you’re putting yourself in this situation for nothing?

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Pretty easy to see why people avoid it but I can tell you from being on both sides of it, it is so important you just need to learn how. First of all, just like you, your boss doesn’t want to hear every single misstep they make. It is counter productive to share all of the millions of things they could do differently to suit your preferences (think of that as micromanaging up). Balance that with, it is important to not let things fester and compound while you decide if you should discuss. My suggestion, if something they have done really causes friction for you think back and determine if this is already a trend or a one time problem. If a trend, and it is causing pain for you and the team, share it. If not a trend make sure it’s egregious enough of a problem to discuss as it may just be a complete one off. Next consider your delivery. Is this something that all work needs to stop this instant and correct or can it be saved for a thoughtful private conversation. I’ve seen both needs so they do happen but the latter is much preferred for obvious reasons. Finally your words, choose them respectfully and strategically. Most leaders are forward thinking so I suggest using that to your advantage. When it has worked best for me is when I introduce that I’m giving feedback, discuss the positive intent or strategy I believe them to have, and lay to the situation or trend that I’m seeing, and relate it back to how it might inhibit their strategy. OK let’s use an example;

I’ve noticed something lately that I’d like to discuss. I understand that you’re wanting to be available for the team at any time that they may need you. You also have a lot of work to do yourself so I understand the need to work more hours. When we get emails from you late at night or on the weekends it feels as though you’re expecting us to be working then as well. You, and all of us, take pride in our culture here and this feeling like we’re expected to be on at all times is hurting it.

That seems simple enough right? Give the feedback to develop the person in turn positively impacting the whole team. While the leader could choose to turn a blind eye to what you’re saying tell you that they need to work then and get out emails. They may, though doubtful, even say that they do expect people to work the weekends. While this is all pretty telling of them and gives you good insight for future decisions, it would be really hard for them to take a negative stance toward you based on a statement like the one above. Most leaders would be grateful for the insight in how their actions are impacting the team and appreciate your taking a positive and expansive view.

I can think of opportunities for myself to have ‘coached up’ all of these men rather than nagging or beating them up with criticism.

So my question is then, if we put this much thought into the feedback we give those above us at work and we understand it can yield really positive results, why aren’t we doing that in more spaces? We change the way we give feedback because they are above us in the organization but what if we treated everyone we gave feedback to with that kind of selectiveness, strategy, and respect? What would happen if you put that same level of intentionality into the feedback you give your team? Your feedback to your kids? Or most of all to your spouse? How would the ‘fight’ go differently if instead of saying, you NEVER take care of any of the cleaning and I have to do all of it, you tried, I understand we both have a lot of priorities that we want to get to and you’re always telling me to do them. It is really difficult for me to do when I have this much cleaning to get done. Would it be possible for you to take on xyz so that we both have time this week? How disarming would that be? Sure, like with our manager, it may not actually change but it has a heck of a better chance handled that way.

So do coach up your boss, and others within the organization when you get the opportunity. Then also take a position of service and respect to the other people in your life. How would your relationships and world be different if you were always, coaching up?

Ending Assumptions

What feeling do you get when you’re at work and your boss says, “Hey can you come to my office a moment?” Did you get a pit in your stomach just reading it? Does fear crop up every time you think of those words? I can come up with a few other emotions from my own personal experience but I have come to learn I was in the minority. One thing my team vocalized to me early on was that I needed to stop using that sentence because it was stressing them out. Their assumption was that something bad was going to happen if they were ‘called in’. When they first told me this I had a mixed reaction of well that’s just silly and oh no I must really be stressing them out, because I did it all the time. You see, I looked at it as if I called you to my office it is because I need your help. I hired and work with a lot of extremely smart, creative, capable people. Very often I need their expertise to help me better understand a problem, brainstorm a solution, or fill in the gaps in a plan or process that has only been built from one perspective. So when they shared the feedback I thanked them and asked what would better. After some discussion we decided I would do better to either come to them, or explain what I actually needed when I asked them to come to me. I’ve messed up in the years following but all in all I think I’ve made a marked improvement in that area.

OK so cool (brushes hands together) assumptions post over. Take the feedback, be honest, ask some questions, and make a change, done. That is a really small example in a situation where all the stars aligned. People felt completely empowered to share the assumption they had been making and they trusted the system and the leader to make a change (that was really simple to make) and support them moving forward. What happens when it isn’t as cut and dry? What happens when the stakes are higher? Let’s look at another example for Teacher Tricia and Principal Patti.

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Tricia and Patti have a pretty good relationship. They’ve only been working together for about a year but so far they understand each other well, are meeting one another’s expectations, and feeling like its been much longer than a year of a relationship. While Tricia is an experienced Science teacher she this is only her first in this district. When she started there were many positives to changing schools but the one drawback was that she needed to share a room this year. Sharing a room as a Science teacher means periodically you need to pack up all everything needed for lessons into boxes, bags, and carts and move to another room for a few hours out of the day, in short a pretty big hassle. Tricia was sure this was only for the year and she could handle it but when the next year schedule came out it was the same again. Everything else was so good that she didn’t want to whine but she was disheartened. Did Patti think so little of her that she didn’t have her own space? It seemed to be going well but was she wrong? Rather than complain while still in her first year, Tricia confided in another teacher. She later decided to take a personal day to get some work done around her home. Meanwhile the other teacher mentioned Tricia’s concerns about the room to Patti who promptly went to work on how it could be fixed. Patti went to Tricia with a compromised solution and during that conversation Tricia mentioned the yard work she would be doing on her personal day. Patti, with maybe even a tear in her eye, said, “I thought you were off to interview other places.”

So that one is a little bigger right? Tricia feels like she can’t or shouldn’t say something because she assumed it would come off wrong. She also assumed that Patti didn’t value her her being there if she put her in the same room situation a second year. Patti assumed that because Tricia didn’t say anything the room share went fine. She then assumed that because Tricia wasn’t coming to her with the concern and had a day off planned that she was unhappy overall and looking to leave. Every single one of those was false and lead to a lot of stress on both parties for no reason.

I don’t want to go too far down the road of why we make these assumptions. People create that out of their own personal reality. We are all living in a slightly different situation than anyone else because of our current circumstances and history. To go back to the beginning, my team is comfortable with me (as evident that they are comfortable coaching up) but history has told them that being ‘called in’ is bad. Bad things happen when you have an impromptu meeting in your bosses office. Same is true of Tricia and Peggy. Tricia likely had a past where speaking up was not OK. Patti may have had a history of losing teachers over logistics or maybe the last teacher to take a personal day was in fact for an interview. I could go on forever, I mean, the psychology behind it is fascinating but the more important reality is to say that we (and everyone else) are going to make assumptions. Trying to make less will only benefit you but at the end of the day, understanding how to navigate them will be more useful.

I just love it when the steps are the same.

Like most things, whether the example is big or small, the steps remain the same; be honest, ask questions, and take some action to fill the gap. This applies whether it is a simple wording issue or a concerns over whether you’re wanted in, or happy in, your role. Be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling and why. Is there anything objective to support your assumption? Talk to the person you’re making the assumption about. If you’re comfortable you can ask them straight out what is going on, like my team did. If you’re not that comfortable, you can ask other questions. What is your intent when you do or say X? Is the schedule final? Is there more I can do that you were expecting? Then provide solutions, talking about how we feel can be nice for some people and uncomfortable for others but in the end, like it or not, it has minimal impact unless something is done. So plan the action too. Plan to communicate more or better. Look at the schedule for options. You’ll pick up on what the areas are to work on or improve as you discuss the answers to your questions and some of the other person’s too. In the end, while we try to limit assumptions, we’re all going to make them sometimes. It takes so much time and effort to spiral on the assumptions we’re making. Having a process to recognize and move through them will allow you to focus on things that really matter.

Serving versus Servant

You hear all the time that you should have a servant’s heart, you should focus on service, you should serve others, on and on. I don’t disagree; and while I think Situational Leadership is key starting with Servant Leadership and flexing and pivoting from there will be your best default in my opinion. Servant Leadership looks like going into each interaction considering the other person’s needs and finding a way to help them, build them up, create opportunities for them.

If I’ve lost you already because you’re “not a leader” please keep in mind that leadership is not confined to a role within the office. You are a Servant Leader at home when you intentionally choose a meal everyone will eat without complaint because you know your spouse has had a hard day. You’re a Servant Leader when you see someone nervously checking their watch in the check out line at the grocery store and you let them go ahead of you. You’re a Servant Leader to your children when you intentionally take time before bed to turn off screens, read with them, and listen to their day. You are putting their needs ahead of your own and finding a way to show up in support of them. Very likely you had a different meal planned, you also have places to be after the store, and you had things you wanted to do in that hour after dinner and before bedtime for the kids, but you set those things aside to be of service to another.

Winding down and practicing his reading skills before bed.
Also, when did independent reading become a Kindergarten activity?

Now, here is my slight hang up with Servant Leadership. A servant gives you everything you want and what we’re aiming for is something that you need. Wants and needs are two very different things. So let’s flip the script a little shall we? Before bed you child wants to watch YouTube and eat candy while jumping on your bed (or is this just my kids?). Giving in to that is not serving your kids well. That one is obvious right? Ok, moving on. That person in the grocery store isn’t just checking their watch but is ranting and raving about how long the lines are, how slow the cashier is, and how he has places to be! Again, giving in and letting him go ahead might be what he wants but what he needs is a lesson in patience so quietly ignoring him and allowing him to wait is probably the better option. Ok, still obvious. Maybe we wouldn’t handle it that way in practice but I think we can mostly agree that, with this person, this approach makes more sense than the first. For your spouse, they may enter the scene declaring they are going to quit their job after the day they’ve had. Instantly writing up their letter of resignation and scouring job sites for them is likely not the best way to serve them in that moment. You know they might want to quit right now but really they just need to blow off some steam and have your support.

For some reason when we get to our careers that clarity runs away. We forget that Servant Leadership is about service and not acting as a true servant catering to their wants and whims. We fail to set up appropriate boundaries for others (and for ourselves) that allow us to serve to the need. Let’s take another example, your co-worker comes to you and says, “I got here late and need to leave early can you cover for me?” Your immediate response is most likely “Sure” or “What do you need me to do?” Or maybe your boss shares that they’re seeing an attitude problem with some staff and asks you to help them in situation by reporting back on things you see and hear on the floor. You might shift in your seat a little but you’ll probably tell them that you’ll let them know anything you see if not diving into a full on report in the moment. If your team comes to you saying they are too busy and can’t keep up, for many leaders, the go to response is to jump into the trenches and help. I will tell you right now, this is a servant to want mindset rather than one of service to the need.

Completing work at night, over the weekend, or while on vacation can be another ‘perfect’ example of
being a servant to the want.
Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com

I can see some of your faces right now. If you’re thinking, No it’s not. Those people need help! Let’s think back to our earlier examples, in all of those we were able to see past the initial ask (or demand) and look for what the deeper need is. Why do we default to expecting that what they asked for was actually what they needed at work when we know so often everywhere else, that is not the case? Now, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to cover for a co-worker, share information with your boss, or work along side your team. I’m saying that there may be a better way to serve the need if we look beyond the initial want. Maybe the co-worker has a bad habit of working partial days and needs to be held accountable. Maybe your boss needs to spend more time with the team understanding what is causing the attitude shift. Maybe rather than putting a band-aid on by doing the work yourself, you need to put your effort into a staffing proposal to fix the problem. In our personal lives we apply our knowledge of the person and the situation to decide the best course. If we don’t know, we ask more questions or just wait and listen so that we can get to the need and serve them well. You are meant to lead in service to others in all places, not in all places except work. The next time you feel inclined to take the ask at face value, challenge yourself to take a beat. Think for a moment about if this is truly a need that you can serve at face value or if you need more information to get to the root of the problem and serve that instead.

Applying Mindset in Marriage

Over this past weekend my husband and I took some much needed time away. We have had so much going on that even when we’re together it can feel like we’re roommates, or co-workers, or maybe even the top executives calling the shots in our business of this life. These aren’t bad relationships to have but in my opinion, and very limited observation, having them in marriage is how a great relationship devolves to a good one. I know, a good relationship with your spouse doesn’t sound all doom and gloom but the operative word there is devolve. It’s going in the wrong direction because unchecked, good can roll down to tolerable. Eventually, wondering why the two of you bother and going your separate ways. Well, this is a slippery slope that I am in no way even willing to risk even getting near.

So what did I do? I went against every anti-planning bone in my body and I chose a weekend 6 weeks out that we would have a break. I set up a sitter for the kids and provided my husband with plenty of notice that while I didn’t know what, we were doing something together because I missed him and us. When his reaction wasn’t what I hoped for I found a way to discuss calmly in a separate time my intention and my why. All of this to say, the planning went well. I did all of the things I profess to be passionate about. I was reflective about why and how I wanted this to be a priority. I was objective in what the problem was and what my part could be in the solution. I took action consistently that supported my plan and was to the benefit of everyone. If you’re sensing a ‘but’ because this is too early in the post for a happy ending, you’re right.

The contrast of the red and green rocks on the shore and in the crystal clear water contrasted with the murky sky was beautiful.

We planned to drive 5 hours from home to bike and be near the lake. Minutes before leaving my husband decided the weather wasn’t great so we wouldn’t take the bikes. We got a later start than intended. I didn’t have as much time to pack as I wanted (and in a world where my husband sees me in glorified PJs every day I did plan to look like something while away) and therefore didn’t get to put together any outfits just haphazard tops and bottoms without enough socks. We got to the hotel late and slept a little later than I wanted followed by a truly lovely day where we most certainly could have biked. I didn’t feel great all day so that was a fun add to the hours and hours of hiking we did. All of these things ate away at me and detracted from our trip. I was constantly getting these little nagging reminders in my head of why it wasn’t perfect. Why I didn’t look perfect. Why I didn’t feel perfect. Why the scenery and the forecasting weren’t perfect. I could have let that pull me in an entirely unproductive direction that would have eaten away at our relationship if I allowed the time devoted to us be overcome by my nitpicking.

So how did I combat this terrible mindset? By telling that little voice to shut up, not dwelling on it, and picking any one of the 1000 of great things to focus on.
Voice: Shouldn’t have listened to him, bikes would have been fine in this weather.
Me: Shut up. Isn’t it great that since we’re hiking we can hold hands and talk more?
Voice: What did you do before this weekend that made you sick? Couldn’t you plan better?
Me: Shut up. This fresh air and activity is going to be so good for me. I’m so thankful I’m feeling well enough to be out here enjoying it.
Voice: There is so much more that you could be doing this weekend. Why didn’t you stay home for a work weekend just the two of you? That would have been time for you and productive.
Me: Shut Up! All of the stuff will still be there tomorrow. Today we build on us because without us none of that matters.

Enjoying the early morning mist while hiking.

I’m not going to say this worked every time. I still said ‘I told you so’ on the weather more than I needed to. I allowed myself to pout on not feeling well. I got annoyed that the ride home didn’t go exactly as I wanted it to but (this is the good but) I utilized a muscle I had been building for my mindset to combat the negative self-talk. I pushed myself to refocus on the positive, creating a better experience for both of us. This is a practice, not something I’ll ever be perfect at. You need to build that mindset muscle. When the stakes are high you’ll be ready to flex and turn the spiral of your mind around to support where you want to be and where you want to go. Listen for your own voice and tell it to stop and make the conscious decision of what you’re going to allow yourself to focus on.