People are More Important than Things

For me, it all started with the simple idea that people are more important than things. How many times, I wonder, did I say that to my kids?

Right now, to me, it seems like only yesterday. A roaring blizzard had us stuck inside our New York apartment for what seemed like months. Andrew was four and a half, Marni just past a year. But, on the day in question, I learned a fundamental truth about teaming from those two unlikely mentors.

A neighbor’s daughter was visiting, and she and Andrew were deeply engaged in reconfiguring the living room furniture, to create a veritable city of interlocking tents. I knew enough to keep my architectural sensibilities to myself. So, I took Marni into another room and read ‘Hop on Pop’ for the fifty thousandth time. And then the phone rang…

Just moments into the conversation, I heard a lot of giggling, some mysterious crunching sounds, and then a wail… MOMMY…. She’s smashing our tents….

I dropped the phone, put my senior negotiator hat on, and went to investigate, ever hopeful that I could bring peace in my lifetime. If not world peace, at least some level of domestic tranquility.

But it was not to happen in that way. I tried all my best lines. ‘She’s too young to understand.’ ‘Big brothers protect their little sisters.’ ‘Mommy is getting a colossal headache and it’s going to be nap time in three minutes!!’

Of course, my little defendant-in-training was determined to fight back, and unfortunately for me, his little mind had had been carefully nurtured in the arts of persuasion.

He started by recapping the situation. “Mommy, we were building a Very Important part of our project (sounding as if the enterprise was being funded by Peter Thiel.) And she just came in and smashed it flat. And when I tried to reason with her and get her to do some work, she just ran away screaming.”

In an instant, I understood. This was no different than things I had seen happen in the workplace.

What had gone wrong?

First, there was a team on a mission: to build whatever their vision told them to.

Second, they had clearly defined whose responsibility was what.

Third, they were having a great time. You might even say that they were engaged and highly productive!

But then their team was descended upon by someone who could not possibly contribute to any of their needs.

Marni was not a great fit for the mission of the team, and didn’t have an appreciation for its mission, so instead of supporting the team’s drive to succeed, she wound up being a roadblock – leaving everyone frustrated and unhappy.

Generational change in the workplace can lead to problems like this, due to increasingly divergent views of what’s really important and how best to get things done. But that’s not the fundamental problem. The real problem is that if the needs of the team – as a living, breathing thing – are not made clear, and accepted by all, its mission is at risk.

As the late Madeleine L’Engle said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” She was not only my children’s favorite author, she was also mine, and an inspiration to me as a very young writer. This was an idea I wanted to share with you, with thanks to my (now very adult) children for teaming with me in the learning adventure called life.

A Good Time for Good Will

Goodwill, I’ve learned from colleagues who practice the mysterious art of business valuation, is not an easy thing to quantify. There are standard guidelines, but each seems to have a unique recipe or method for assigning a number to intangible assets, and sometimes they even agree. But not often. Especially when they are on opposite sides of a negotiation.

I’m going to leave that variety of goodwill to the experts because, to me, it’s just another number that might describe how much of something good is going on, but not whether it’s actually making a difference.

Those of you who know me well know I’m always looking for change. Positive change. Enduring change. Change with the potential to expand and cascade into the beginnings of a better world. For everyone.

You know – or can probably figure out – that recent events in America, as well as abroad, have caused me to question whether I can hope for change any more. (Maybe my tagline should read ‘Hoping for change since the sixties and still not giving up.’)

So I thought, what if we went back to the non-financial definition of good will. As in ‘Peace on Earth, Good Will to All.’ Where ‘good will’ is based on action – something you give to, or do for, or nurture in others; not just a number.

What if – instead of counting our LinkedIn connections, Twitter follows, Facebook friends, or blog subscribers – we started counting our acts of good will? And what if, instead of counting our calories, or steps, or unanswered emails, we counted the number of people we touched with caring? What if all that really counted in our lives were acts of charity, of kindness, of love?

And what if, eventually, we could no longer count good will because it became one continuous action? One way of life?

Then, perhaps, as the holiday refrain goes, we really could sing in perfect harmony: celebrating our interdependence, and our differences, while serving something bigger than our small selves.

It would be a start.

Let’s let 2017 be the time to start. Together. Because change, like everything else that makes a difference, takes a team.

And may 2017 bring you not only peace and good will, but many opportunities to have more of both.

Happy Holidays from the team that brings you Teamability®

Management – Like Love – Means Letting Go

I usually address bright, big picture topics, but this time circumstances have brought it very close to home. I hope you won’t mind.

In the early evening of Sunday, August 30, after many years of declining health, my husband of 33 years went gentle into that good night.

Those who were close knew Barry as an incredibly loving person, but he was still quite able to rage against social inequalities and injustices – whether big (think slavery, 9/11, or Rwanda), or small.

He had no way to address holocausts, but he did have a constructive response to the slights and rudeness and dismissive behaviors he observed against those who could not fight back. And the fact that there were good reasons for not fighting back – potential loss of livelihood, or even life itself – is what truly raised his ire.

These days, a management consultant might praise Barry’s approach as ‘scalable, repeatable, and sustainable.’ He simply showed people he cared. He modeled respect; not just tolerance. Even the most downtrodden would have his full engagement for as long as civil discourse continued, after which he would politely withdraw. And that, it turns out, was the greatest management lesson I ever learned: to withdraw. To be silent. To let go.

How often are management problems – like personal relationship problems – caused by the inability to just let go?

Case in point: I know someone who works in the innovation department of a huge company. The job description is, basically, find exciting and cool stuff, and report on it. So when I found an exciting and cool article on a very respected website, I sent this very hard worker the link.

I got an immediate response…but not the one I was expecting. It went something like, ‘<expletive deleted!!>, they won’t let us access that site. Actually, most everything is blocked. Makes it really hard to do my job.’

At some point – who knows when or why – someone decided that the company needed to control where people go, and what they see, on the web. Now that choice is obsolete and obstructive to the company’s own desire to innovate and grow. And yet, no one is letting it go.

Just saying.

Personal relationships are much the same. Really, if you have to hold on tight to control your partner, how whole can they be? And how good is that for you?

A very wise person said to me, “when we are infants our hands are curled up; when we grow old, they are relaxed open.” When I heard it, I thought, that is equally true of our maturity as managers.

In the end, there was no holding Barry back from his final journey. Even if there was, it’s not the way he would have wanted me – or him – to manage it.