Thorns and Thanks

sunset over thorns

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, and reflect on the many blessings in our lives . . . after we take a few moments to acknowledge how our days are enriched by family, friends, home and hearth . . . maybe, just maybe, we should also recognize the importance of thorns in our lives.

Seriously, this is not Thanksgiving carb-induced babbling. I’m talking about those people or situations that are a thorn in your side, a burr under your saddle, that might start out as a minor irritant but simply won’t go away. Yep, those. You would be surprised how often, hidden inside the aggravation of said thorn, there is a leadership lesson . . . and the irritation of the situation is unlikely to go away until the lesson is extracted.

I’m not referring to the one and done annoying people/situations. That’s just life. I’m talking about the things that just keep poking at you. You think you have addressed the situation and yet it keeps rearing its head time and again. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to ask yourself what you’re supposed to learn from the situation. Why is this such an irritant and what are you going to do differently to get a different outcome?

Easier said than done, I know. But, rest assured, you will continue to be presented the opportunity until you learn the lesson, so you might as well get after it. What kind of lessons might you learn? Maybe it’s about how to best channel someone’s gifts and graces, or finding a way to make them part of the solution rather than an on-going problem. Maybe it’s about the intentional decision to find a way to move forward, rather than pointing out all the flaws or roadblocks in a given situation. Maybe it’s about choosing to collaborate rather than compete, and the willingness to give a little to ultimately find a win-win. Usually, it’s about moving from a negative mindset toward one with a positive potential. It’s a willingness to risk asking “what if”, even if that is not the most popular option.

Indecision, waffling, wallowing, bellyaching . . . believe it or not, these can be pretty comfortable places to live. You have a lot of company and no one expects much from you. Except that thorn, which will just keep poking at you until you decide to do something about it. And once you do, you just might be amazed at the opportunities that present themselves. The end result of your actions, which might never have happened without the irritation of the thorn, could give you many new reasons to be thankful.

So there you have it. On this Thanksgiving, I wish you countless blessings and good fortune . . . and one or two thorns to keep you searching for new possibilities.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

ButtonIf we are honest with ourselves, we all have buttons . . . those things that might not seem like a big deal to other people, but which drive us crazy. Maybe someone interrupting others in a conversation pushes your buttons, or people who focus on the negative even in the best of situations. For me, it’s people who are chronically late. I’m not talking about a one-time unique circumstance (after all, life happens), I’m talking about those people who consistently think a deadline is a guideline, or that the start time of a meeting is a general target. In my book, persistent tardiness is rude and, especially in a work setting, missed deadlines are unprofessional. Now I realize our culture has gotten much more lax about such things . . . so call me a rebel, I believe punctuality is important.

The funny thing is, we have a tendency to try to hide our buttons, rather that letting those who work with us know what they are in advance. I don’t know, maybe people have this illusion that by the time you get to position of leadership you should be “button free.” Reality check — if there is someone out there who is immune to having buttons, I have yet to meet them. But buttons don’t need to be seen as a major character flaw to be hidden (provided you don’t have 47 of them, or they cause you to treat others badly), but rather as a part of your unique make-up just like your gifts and graces. If fact, trying to hide your buttons can have a negative impact for everyone involved. Think about it . . . you will likely get aggravated with those who have, perhaps unwittingly, repeatedly pushed your buttons, and they may be totally unaware they were doing something that bothered you.

How much better is it for those who work with me to know in advance that I’m a stickler for deadlines than to strain our relationship just because they don’t place the same value on timeliness that I do? Likewise, I will do things out of respect for my colleagues “quirks” not necessarily because those things are important to me, but because it makes working with them go much more smoothly.

Have you taken the time to learn the buttons of those you work with most closely? If not, you may be doing something that is silently driving them crazy. And while any single “button push” may not seem like a big deal, the cumulative affect can have a significant impact on your working relationship, and ultimately your organization’s success.

Being sensitive to people’s buttons may seem like a little thing that you don’t have time for, but the most effective leaders realize that it’s the little things that can have the greatest impact on undermining or energizing your efforts — buttons and all!