“If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Attributed to Eubie Blake
Often neglected and seldom really understood, consider the power of caring for and communicating with peers. Everyone seems to agree with the idea. Let me dig a little deeper. Here is something to know which can be forgotten easily in the day-to-day grind. There is no one in your organization who takes better care for you or keeps you from falling down the ‘ash holes’ quicker than your peers. Here is the catch. You must go first to set the example for peer communication and care, and they won’t all return the favor. This is where you need to defer to “doing the right thing” as your only option. At the risk of sounding naïve, putting your peers first will pay dividends in many ways.
Here is something that can allow you to really get the most from your peer leadership time. When you are promoted or given a new responsibility and become part of a new peer group, try this.
Go to each one of your peers and spend a few minutes over coffee or lunch asking about their hopes, dreams and goals. Inevitably, in the conversation they will ask yours in return, so be ready. Most importantly, work from this moment on to help them in any way you can to achieve those hopes, dreams and goals. Yes, I know you are thinking that sometimes you are competing for promotion with the very people I’m asking you to assist. That is true but maybe a better way to think about it might be that the best person for each job should get that job. This concept will help you to stop worrying and put their best interests first.
People usually shudder when I tell them of this method of assisting peers, but it is the right thing to do for your organization, shows your peers your humility, and almost always results in them returning the favor and putting your goals first. Be relentless in the aid of these peers and their goals and I promise good things will come to you. It is simple reciprocity and I’m sure each person who reads this can think of at least one person who gives to others unconditionally without ever expecting a return. They always get a return because this sort of selflessness does not go unnoticed.
This same idea can apply to communications. Share liberally with these peers and share with them in a way that treats them with the kind of care you would give to a client or even a dear friend. This seemingly invisible action will make you visible beyond what you may be comfortable with. Get ready because your impact will be noticed.
Avoid falling into the ash hole
There is this old corny joke that goes like this: How do you catch an elephant?
You dig a big, deep hole large enough for an elephant. You surround the hole with ashes and place ashes in the base. On top of the base you place peas. Elephants are curious and ashes always lure them in for some reason. When an elephant approaches the hole, he will see the peas in the bottom and like elephants will always do, he will bend over to take a pea. When he bends over to take a pea, you kick him in the ash hole.
Yeah, I know. Told you it was corny. My point is to have you thinking about how to avoid falling into the ash hole.
Here are the things that can get you in the ash hole.
Yapatitus – Know when to sit and listen and when to stand and speak. Strong visible leaders make their mark by standing and speaking. Sometimes leaders speak more than they should. Make it your goal to learn to listen at least twice as much as you speak. I remember what my Aunt used to say, “Two ears and one mouth.” I have never found the research that said that the person who speaks the most is the smartest or the best leader. I’ll keep looking, but maybe you should try to be the last person to speak. It is more difficult than it sounds but it will change your patterns of communication for the better. Learn to write down your thoughts if you find yourself wanting to blurt them out before you lose them. Listen to others first and consider those points of view. Ask thoughtful questions when it is your turn to speak. You will develop patience and if it doesn’t give you an ulcer to hold your thoughts, you will be a better communicator.
Assumption Dysfunction – Leaders have power and our age-old instincts have taught us to connect dots and make assumptions. I suspect that is why we have lasted on this planet for so long. In the beginning, we learned not to go out in the dark alone because something was out there to eat us. Good plan, if you ask me. Today we must consider making decisions or judgments about people’s lives and having control over their destinations. It is a little different responsibility and it is significant. Therapists exist and thrive because we are complicated people and contemporary times can complicate things even further. We all live our lives at least half of the time away from the workplace and those lives can be messy and difficult. Our judgments and assumptions about others can be very wrong because we haven’t walked in their shoes and don’t know the circumstances. As I was writing this, I took a personal inventory of approximately how often I have been right in my assumptions regarding people’s behaviors and I’m ashamed to tell you that I kind of suck at it. Sometimes we simply don’t know the whole story.
In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.