As of this week, my husband and I officially survived the teenage years when our youngest son turned 20. Making it through the teens (twice!) requires that a parent take the long view. The journey is sure to be scattered with a number of “are you kidding me?!?” days and weeks. For that reason, it is never wise to judge parenting skills by looking at a single day in time . . . parenting is all about the long view.
Hmmm . . . not really all that different from leading. Any time a leader tries to implement a major change initiative or new strategic effort, the process is likely to look a lot like an amplified version of the teenage years. For example . . .
Boundaries will be tested. I’m assuming I don’t need to explain all the ways a teen will do this, and it’s really not all that different with staff . . . You make decisions from where you are standing, which might be quite different from your staff/teen’s perspective. Yes, you may have at one time been exactly where they are, but your staff/teen is not likely to acknowledge that when you are setting a boundary that feels ridiculous to them. Some will follow out of respect; some will defiantly dance right up to the edge of, and occasionally over, the line; and others will smile sweetly while they quietly act like the line ever existed.
Your IQ will drop . . . some times considerably. You just don’t get it. You are being short-sighted. You are not being realistic. Sentiments such as these (and a host of other less kind versions) are usually a result running into the boundaries mentioned above. It is easier to question the leader/parent’s intelligence than to consider there might be a legitimate reason for the action that is in direct contrast with what the individual wants to do/knows how to do/thinks is right.
The goal is to feel in control. For a lot of people, change — even what may seem like minor change to you — makes them anxious and out of control. That feels bad. And so they find ways to take control over something, anything . . . the color of their hair, whether they share critical information with others, reverting back to a strategy that worked in the past . . . you get the picture.
The point here is not to make leading, or parenting, sound like a constant battle. It’s not. But it also rarely goes exactly according to plan, and if you expect it to you will be in a fairly constant state of frustration. What to do?
Take a deep breath. Cut yourself, and everyone else, some slack. Realize that there will be “are you kidding me?!?” days and weeks, but you can influence how quickly they pass. Find ways to acknowledge how your staff is feeling, and help them find their footing. Be a broken record in clearly communicating the end goal, and also be willing to take a slightly different path to get there. Make enough deposits along the way to be given the benefit of the doubt, even when your idea stretches people in uncomfortable ways.
Taking the long view may be difficult in our hurry-up/right now/instant gratification world, but trust me . . . the results are worth the wait.