Have you ever had the feeling that just when you think you’ve tamed a bad behavior, it rears its ugly head in unexpected ways?
I had this experience not long ago when I was attending a water aerobics class.
It all sounds so innocent and lovely… doing water aerobics outside in the California sunshine. People smiling and enjoying themselves. What could be better?
But before I tell you my tale of woe at water aerobics, let me take you back to the beginning.
Participation – A Foundational Concept
Many of you have attended my workshops and heard my Foundational Concepts of Get Out of B.E.D. (Blame, Excuses and Denial). I invite people to look at how they interact in meetings, in relationships and in life and take accountability for their participation and its impact on the results produced.
Many of us have patterns of how we participate and interact. Some healthier or kinder than others. Some people may dominate conversations or are the know-it-all; others may participate by being the nay-sayer or Debbie Downer. Some smile and nod, as if in agreement, but sabotage in the hallways. Still others may claim to be listening but are mentally miles away or are focused on their phone, multi-tasking.
I used to have my own strategy of participation: I was the person in the back of the room making snide or sarcastic comments under my breath. Those around me would snigger and I felt very smug and superior… until I realized that this way of participating really stifled most conversations. I realized that those who giggled with me, suddenly clammed up out of fear that they’d be on the receiving end of my sharp tongue. It was like I threw a cold bucket of water over everyone.
Yikes. I had to take accountability for how I participated and how I was actually inhibiting collaboration or problem solving.
So for many years I worked on making sure I was adding value to meetings, encouraging collaboration and supporting people as they presented ideas…
Or so I thought.
Leadership Lessons from the Deep End of the Pool
And then this snarky behavior reared its ugly head at water aerobics… of all places.
I love doing water aerobics in Southern California. There’s a level of vitality here that I love and I’m one of the younger people who attends. One of the “regulars” is a woman named Jean. Jean is a lively 95 years old. Her hair is perfectly coiffed and she has a lovely French manicure and she keeps up with the exercises and banters with us youngsters.
On this particular day, we had a substitute instructor, Susanna. Susanna is a very fit 70-year-old, but she’s hard to follow because she has a soft voice and heavy accent. Jean looked at me and said: “Oh crap. It’s Susanna.” Of course I laughed and commiserated. Then I proceeded to complain under my breath, like the snarky girl in the back of the room from days gone by.
It was at that point I heard Nora, a fellow participant who was supporting Susanna by calling out Susanna’s instructions for the rest of the class to hear. All of a sudden people, myself included, stopped complaining and goofing off, and became engaged. By the end of the class, we congratulated Susanna on a great class.
It was a humbling yet powerful experience for me. I like to think of myself as a person who empowers and supports others. But I could see that my complaining and lack of engagement was not only disrespectful to Susanna but contributed to the low energy of the class in general. Nora’s simple act of calling out and repeating the instructions made all the difference for Susanna and the rest of us.
Can We Lead By Example at the Grocery Store?
Who knew you could learn a leadership lesson at aqua aerobics?
I think we can see examples of leadership in everyday situations and this was one. How often do we have the opportunity to lead by example in daily life and choose to be snarky, apathetic or self-absorbed?
Why do we think that leadership is reserved for the board room, the team meeting or the volunteer groups?
Why can’t we remember to lead by example at the grocery store or the shopping center parking lot or while driving in traffic?
What would you be doing differently if you were consciously leading by example – when no one is looking?
Nora taught me a valuable lesson that leadership comes in many unexpected ways and in many unexpected places and reminded me that how I participate really does impact others.
So I invite you to look in the mirror again, and ask yourself: how do I participate in meetings, in relationships and in life? And if you were to make more conscious choices, how could this make a difference for you and for the people around you?
Marty Stanley, CSP, is a national speaker, author and consultant on personal and organizational change. If you want to raise the bar on your personal or organization’s performance, call Marty today: 816-695-5453 or 858-432-6764. firstname.lastname@example.org www.alteringoutcomes.com
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