Celebrating at the Finish Line

Group of business people celebrating by throwing their business

In the Olympic spirit, take a moment to think back . . . when was the last time you celebrated at the finish line? Like the journey of an elite athlete, many of your efforts are years in the making. They require incredible dedication and hard work, as well as a more than a few sleepless nights. However, unlike an Olympic endeavors, leadership finish lines aren’t always so clear-cut, and there is rarely someone waiting to hang a medal around your neck to recognize your wins. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate at the finish line.

We all need to take the time to reflect on our accomplishments, and offer our gratitude to those who contributed to the effort. “Need to” is not the same as actually doing it, however. How many times have you merely moved on to the next major project, barely breaking stride as you shifted gears on the way to another impending deadline? Stop. Take a deep breath. Say thank you. Maybe even do a little happy dance. You’ve earned it. More than that, you need it.

Celebrating at the finish line helps recharge your batteries. It provides an opportunity to reflect on all you and your team have accomplished, which in turn motivates you to accomplish even more. It’s a chance to rally the troops and ride the wave of excitement from one victory to give you a head start on the next. With all the positives the come from celebrating at the finish line, why don’t we do it more often?

For starters, there is so much on your plate. You don’t have time to “play” . . . right? Well yes, I’m sure it’s been years since you have seen the bottom of your to-do list. One afternoon won’t derail your progress toward the next big thing, but it can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy the ride. Take a few moments to celebrate at the finish line.

But what kind of example does that set for your staff? If you expect them to work hard, you need to do the same, right? Besides, budgets are crazy tight and you can’t afford a big celebration. Okay. I’m fairly certain you have the example of hard work down pat. Maybe you need to work on the example of recognizing a job well done. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Ever hear of waffle cone Wednesday, or half price appetizers, or goofy games? You can get noise makers and confetti for a song.

The work you do is important, and it is a leader’s job to keep the flame burning in their people so you all can go on to accomplish even more. Celebrate at the finish line.

Telling Stories

Old vintage typewriter with blank paper

If you are a leader, whether you realize it or not, you are also a storyteller. And the cool thing is, you get to decide what kind of story you are going to tell. Yes, the facts are the facts, but they are rarely the most powerful part of the story.

 Say you’ve had a challenging week, or several challenging weeks, for reasons that are totally outside your control. Those are the facts. What story are you going to tell? Is it a story about the unfairness of the situation, your sense of aggravation with the people or factors that have resulted in this predicament, your sense of helplessness in the face of the challenges before you? Wow, that’s a depressing story. One that is likely to suck the energy, the sense of power and possibility, right out of you and those you lead. Looks like this story went from bad to worse, looming larger with each telling.

 Or … You could tell a story that acknowledges the challenging facts of the situation, and expresses gratitude that your team has the skills, creativity and can-do spirit to figure out a solution. It could be a story that outlines the hard truth, and also highlights the gifts and graces of your team to uniquely and effectively respond to that truth. I’m not suggesting you tell your people the path will be quick or easy if that’s not the case — your team deserves more than fairy tales from their leader. I am suggesting that you plot out the character(istic)s that will allow the story to have a satisfactory/positive/mission-fulfilling end. Maybe one of your team members has the deep sense of empathy and compassion to support others as they walk through a difficult situation. Maybe another has the ability to see possible solutions when others only see road blocks. A third might have relationships that can connect the dots to move you forward. You see, the facts are merely the backdrop. Your team, and your confidence in them, is the storyline!

 So which storyline is playing in your head? The facts may be presented to you, but you are the author of your team’s story. You get to decide. Is it going to be a soap opera, a tragedy, or a story of triumph even in the midst of steep odds? If you don’t believe the storyline, your “listeners” won’t either. The situation, those things you can’t control, isn’t the story. How you and your team respond is. Sure there will be times when the sky looks dark and you’re not sure what the next chapter will bring. As a colleague pointed out to me earlier this week, sometimes you just have to walk through it … very true. Do you believe that the good guys will prevail? Then take heart.

 You’re the leader, the author … You get to tell the story.