Having a bit more time on my hands these days I have the pleasure of helping one day a week with my daughter’s school crossing.
This week I asked my youngest daughter Edie and her friend to say good morning to everyone who crossed.
Though both were anxious at first, eventually they got into the swing of it.
Simply because being outwardly friendly to someone, even those they completely did not know, got an outwardly friendly response and more – smiles, changes in demeanor, changes in body language; ‘the works’ really. No negativity whatsoever.
Really it’s not hard.
Say hello the first time.
Try and get their name in as well the next time.
And then move on up to asking how they are doing or wishing them a pleasant day.
At no cost, you feel better too.
Observe carefully and you’ll notice most awkward moments are created by what we don’t say rather than what we do – it’s just that we take more note of the few awkward moments we create when we say the wrong thing.
Simply because we can’t see or hear something doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Often, in fact, it’s right in front of us.
More often than we admit we choose not to see or hear things. It starts as a young child and the habit only becomes more subtle and more discreetly executed as we get older.
Statistically speaking 49.999% of us are in the bottom half of our chosen field of expertise, be it sport, academics, leadership or even parenting!
The perception we typically create for ourselves, however, is that we are in the upper quadrant and, in some studies 90% of people believe they’re above average!
Known as Illusory Superiority this bias has some interesting outcomes – and not always as you might expect.
Ola Svenson (1981) surveyed 161 students in Sweden and the United States, asking them to compare their driving skills and safety to other people. For driving skills, 93% of the U.S. sample and 69% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50%.
Interestingly there is also a tendency for people in the face of a challenging task to suffer from the “worse-than-average” effect.
What makes these two tendencies interesting in unison is that it suggests as managers we will often overrate our ability to deliver a message and underestimate the threat our staff experience in new and challenging tasks.
Rather than pat ourselves on the back for delivering a great message and then expressing great disappointment when our staff don’t execute as expected, we should ensure that we examine deeply where such ‘missions’ fail.
Is an irate manager the result of our own unreality (about their ability) rather than an intrinsic failing in those we manage?
How often as managers do we check in with staff on their comfort with what is being asked of them?
How often as managers do we reassure our staff of our belief in their capability to do challenging tasks?
Simply because there is no noise, no feedback, no protest, doesn’t mean it is not there.
I’m not sure when Corporate culture became a thing – it certainly goes back to the eighties; you could spot IBM employees from 100 metres away, the confident swagger, fresh-pressed clothing and overt conversation.
Somewhere along the line ‘we all fall into line’, well, actually, no.
If our corporate culture and management style doesn’t recognize the individual we have neither an enviable culture nor a valid management style. Just because you have a great corporate culture doesn’t mean it’s a place all the people you ‘need’ are going to love it.
I predict the next big movement will be ensuring personal identity is built into and supported by corporate culture.
This will be a ‘thing’ because increasingly companies are realizing they need all manner of personalities and styles to make their company hum and high turnover of staff in any single area is a significant problem. If, however, they can embrace differences in individuals while integrating the corporate culture and company objectives then rewards will follow for everyone.
In the early stages of my own career, I was wooed by employers who thought the best way to retain my services was simply to pay more. The answer to keeping me happy was much more complicated – the mentoring I craved and the engagement I sought with senior management was most of what was required.
I stayed with and worked hardest for those where my identity was strongest – provided the basic culture was aligned with my values in the first place – though mostly I expect those things to go hand in hand (if the ‘outside appearance of the culture of a company doesn’t align with your values, don’t go there).
If you believe in your staff you need to feed them, and when you do, be aware that while some want steak and chips others want flowers or simply someone to listen to them. Almost anything can actually be accommodated with all but the very worst of corporate cultures and/or employees if you just take time to lean in and learn.
Collectively the individual identities in your organization will always be bigger, stronger and more enduring than your corporate culture, just imagine the strength of what that would create if they could all fit together in a dynamic ‘living’ organization.
I guess if you don’t know what you’re missing it’s hard to look for it. I never realized I’d been searching for my identity. I suspect it’s what many of us spend much of our lives doing without being fully aware. Deep down a few things always felt somewhat short-changed in my life and having a clear sense of identity is now obvious to me as being one of those things.
I probably should have cottoned on to this when at the age of 14 having had my first trip away (to Auckland) I proudly returned home with a T-shirt which loudly declared “Pommy Bastards”. My English mother (coming to New Zealand when she was 17) was duly unimpressed.
Suffice to say I didn’t know who I was, though I clearly didn’t want to be English!
More correctly I have always wanted to be simply a “New Zealander”.
Defining what qualified me as a New Zealander has always been difficult for me, despite my great Grandfather arriving in 1870. I could see a clear ‘right’ for those of Māori descent, but for everyone else, I have always felt the waters to be somewhat murky, and at times definitely muddied.
Fast forward some 40 odd years from the T-shirt and returning to New Zealand I find that in public engagements and education forums Te Reo has been fully embraced and incorporated as a way of life; it’s the way we do thing around here. Though embracing this is not universal, for me it was like a light being switched on.
What began perhaps 11 years ago when working at Te Papa and then a year later in running a Directors (Governance) course for the Te Arawa Lakes trust, and loving every minute of both those experiences, I was now able to see a path to my New Zealand identity – Te Reo.
Not simply Te Reo as a language, but to understand the culture and to embrace the more spiritual connections Māori have with the land, water, flora and fauna. I now had a vehicle to strengthen my connections with the past and to reach out in a way I had never previously explored.
I’ll update the journey as I progress but meantime ponder these questions:
Is it critical to a mixed society’s social and emotional success and security that the majority of the population understand the history and customs of that lands ‘first peoples’?
How critical is it for our own identity for us to connect with or retain the language and customs of our resident country as it was initially settled, while not foregoing that we are likely to also wish to connect with and explore that of our forebears?
One of the best books I’ve read this last decade is Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree. It is both heart-wrenching and reaffirming, honest without judgement and a candid look into the struggles of the author himself.
The subtitle is Parents, Children and the search for identity. The exploration is of value to everyone. At its simplest, it’s the two sides of the coin that people with disabilities (which Solomon applies in the broadest sense) both face and find themselves on. It provides reflection for understanding the very grey/gray area surrounding all of our stories; what they mean to us and how they are perceived by others.
My current read is Michael Pollan’s How to change your Mind in which Pollan explores (as researcher and exponent) the world of Psychedelics. Apart from the fascinating history and recounting of experiences, one brief excerpt really struck me having read several of Pollan’s books.
Pollan is completely candid in response to his own question of whether he really wanted to go into the depths of where psychedelics would probably take him:
“…No!-to be perfectly honest. You should know I have never been one for deep or sustained introspection. My usual orientation is more forward than back, or down, and I generally prefer to leave my psychic depths undisturbed, assuming they exist.”
Boom! There goes my long-held belief that everyone wants to dig deeper into who and why they are here, and all that stuff.
No, they don’t!
I’m not sure if I’m envious or sorry for those who don’t want to delve like I do. And so I loop back to Andrew Solomon, his wisdom informs me the correct response is to ‘accept’. It is what it is, it just is.
Everyone deserves to be and, I expect, wants to be, validated. Without such a ‘process’ “identity” can be challenging or even impossible to find.
When I find others who “want to know more about themselves” it validates who I am, and because of that I readily validate them.
What do we do when we encounter those whose identity is different to ours? Do we reach out to validate or do we shy away? Do we attempt to understand or do we avoid the dialogue?
I suspect we are all ‘guilty’ to varying degrees of staying within our own ‘identity cocoon’ when so much richness lies just outside of it. I also accept that occasionally my own responses have strayed into the realms of ignorance, conceit and arrogance.
What if we start each interaction with Stephen Covey’s Fifth Habit “Seek first to understand and then be understood.”?
If you read Pollan’s book you may believe the simpler answer is that we all just try some psychedelics, but given the challenge associated with that, how about we simply begin with a change in mindset with how we approach each day:
Who’s identify can you validate today?
How could you do that?
*Note this is the first in a brief series of posts I have written around the concept of identity. Post to follow are:
Te Reo and my search for identity.
Corporate culture and personal identity.
Why we need to be able to greet in multiple languages.
Excuse: I’ve been busy so haven’t got around to posting another blog.
Reason: I’ve been distracted lately and haven’t given this blog the time it needs.
A somewhat benevolent Chairman once pulled me up for giving an excuse. It was a lesson well learned and a cue I since have used often for self-improvement and to tune into the conversations I have and assess the credibility of those I’m engaged with.
Anyone who talks with genuine reasons is well ahead in the credibility stakes. Just pouring out excuses is an easy habit to slip into but an unattractive trait to wear:
Sorry I’m late the traffic was unbelievable!!!
Sorry, I failed to allow for the traffic (which I know about) and left later than I should have.
Sorry I didn’t do “x” I’ve been so busy lately.
Sorry, my bad, I didn’t give “x” the priority I implied I would and I overlooked it. I will have it to you by 4pm today.
Sorry I meant to call but forgot.
Sorry, I should have called you. (No reason, but an admission of fault)
I forgot to do my homework, I was busy with other things.
Sorry, I wasted too much time on my tech and didn’t do my homework.
I know I said I wouldn’t do it again, next time will be better.
I let you down, and I let myself down, I’m sorry.
I didn’t mean it.
Sorry, I should not have pushed my sister.
I didn’t mean it.
That was unkind and unthinking of me. I apologise.
It’s likely some of these will resonate, we all have our guilty moments.
The strength is in acknowledging ‘guilt’ or fault and not falling into the 5-year-olds plea of “It wasn’t me”.
If you can add a commitment to a genuine reason then the value of the apology goes up significantly:
I will have the work to you by 4pm…
I will call them straight away (and you do)…
I’ll work late tonight and have that on your desk in the morning (and you do)…
I promise not to use any tech until my homework is completed.
But mostly, next time you are addressing an incomplete task or action, contemplate whether your response is the real reason or the excuse of a 5-year-old.