People Are Not Goldfish

->sign up for The People Are Not Goldfish workshop here<-

It's really, really simple to 'be' for one's own self. I don't know about you, but I find it super easy to identify what all of my selfish needs are. I want to be beautiful and fit. I want to have a dreamy home and pets and kids and boyfriend. I want my plant collection to be the envy of every other thirty-something-suburban-female around! It's not that complicated.

I want pancakes for breakfast every morning and pizza for dinner and I want my house to never-ever get dirty. I want tiny fairies to come over when I'm not home and wash the dishes and walk the dogs and change my sheets. In addition, I would like to have shiny blonde hair and perfect brows and travel the world for a living. Do you see how easy this is for me? I can keep going, if you want? No? Oh. Ok.

Well. What I'm trying to convey is that it's easy to identify what you want and we humans love things that are easy. It's much more difficult to figure out what makes the people around us tick. Why would we even try? Great question! Because being for others give us purpose and joy and I dare say it's the meaning of life *if there is one*. One person cannot change the world. We have to do it together. No man left behind!

This brings me to my next point which is that being "for" others we love is also relatively easy. I mean, sure, it's hard sometimes for me to meet my son's needs and be a great mom, but for the most part I would rather hang out with him then most other people because I love him. He's my son! Being for others who we are not related to or in love with can be a helluva lot trickier.

This leads to a discussion around teams and communities... the people we partner with to get stuff done who are not our families. We don't know them as well. We don't love them as much. We may not even like them if we're being super honest. But alas. Here they are filling up our inboxes with e-mails and sitting next to us sipping their coffee loudly at meetings. They're "checking in" on our progress and they're "willing to help" and their ideas are sometimes inspiring and also often very annoying. Is it just me? Many times during the course of my management career I've heard an owner or leader say, "I would love this job if it weren't for the people". I've said it myself more times than I can count and I'm a pretty nice person and all.

The reason we say this (and more importantly, the reason we feel this) is because people are complicated! They are messy and emotional and opinionated and have hurt feels and "feedback". They have high expectations and they're lazy sometimes. Turns out they are also hard-working and funny and supportive and sometimes they're the thing that gets you through the day when you want to give up because they buy you a cappuccino and give you a hug. So yea. Sometimes... MANY TIMES... they are the reason for it all. That doesn't mean they don't make you want to bang your head against a wall every now and again. Or hide in a hole. Or hit the snooze button too many times.

So how do we deal with these messy, lovable people? How do we practice being for them? We take a deep breath, clear our minds for a second, and we say, "How can I help?" HOW CAN I HELP is the mantra of a powerful leader. Not "What can you do for me?" Not "Hurry up!" Not "I have some feedback". HOW CAN I HELP is the mantra of a servant leader who is up to big things and knows they can't do it alone.

Here are a few other great things to get in the habit of saying to the people you work with:

"Thank you" (use this one too frequently)

"Good job" (doesn't have to be great)

"You kind of nailed that" (if you thought it to yourself then you should share it with THEM)

"I'm grateful you're on my team" (in a moment where you really are)

"What do you need from me?" (with sincerity & listen for the reply)

"Here's the goal. Can you run with that and get a good result?" (TRUST!)

"I appreciate about you that you always _____" (fill in the blank with something truthful)

We practice saying things like this because it creates an environment of support that people absolutely cannot freaking get enough of. People want to be encouraged. They need positive feedback. They aren't goldfish! You can't just throw a food pellet in their bowl once a day and hope for the best. {However, truth be told, I even struggle with THAT when my son is not here and he asks me to take care of his pet beta fish named *clears throat* "Fishy"... poor Fishy...}


You may be thinking now, "Well, that's all fine and good when things are GOOD, but what do I do when I need to offer constructive criticism or have a difficult conversation?" I'm glad you asked! A few years ago I made it a goal of mine to get really good at tough conversations. Like most of us, I hated having them so I would put them off and then when the time came I would act like an asshole because I was nervous and awkward and trying to plow through it to get it over with fast. Anyone relate with that?

Here are some tips & tricks for tough convos. Are you ready? This is what I've learned through blood, sweat and tears:

1. Don't have the convo when you're the most upset (wait a day or even a week)

2. Decide if it's worth the cost (if I have this convo it is likely that this person will feel sad or bummed out or angry on some level - am I willing to handle the potential consequences?)

3. If you've waited and you believe it's worth the cost, then go ahead and have the conversation on the fly when you're together next. Don't plan it. Don't do the "We need to talk next Monday at noon" thing. Oh god, no. That's not kind. The dread of waiting for that noon meeting is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. Don't be that guy. Just have the damn convo.

4. Don't make a big deal about it, if possible. Keep it short and kind and believe the best from start to finish. "Hey! I've noticed you've been super late multiple times in the past few weeks. Is everything ok?" can sometimes be enough to get the point across. Take your time to listen, lend support if you can, and then watch to see if the behavior shifts with time. If not, then follow-up. Another example is, "Hey! I wanted to mention to you... there was a conversation we had last week that didn't sit well with me. I've thought it over and was hoping I could share my feelings with you. Is that ok? Here's what happened and here's how I felt afterward. My hope is that moving forward we can communicate with each other in a way that doesn't result in that kind of disconnect. What are your thoughts?"

5. This leads me to the next point - Listen. Part of having a tough conversation is understanding that a lot it will be you listening. You'll be listening to explanations and expressions of frustration and likely a lot of defensiveness. That's ok. That's human. Share your feelings in a short and sweet manner and let the other person share theirs. It's a dialogue, not a sermon.

6. After any coaching conversation of any kind, pause to ask yourself, "How does that person likely feel right now?" It's good to get in the habit of actively empathizing. The goal is always for the person to walk way feeling supported and cared for... every single time. I've had to fire several people over the years and a few of them have actually hugged me before leaving the meeting. Even in cases where it's not the right professional fit, you can try your very best to deliver the message with love. Use the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Managing people is a lot of identifying large goals and then mobilizing people to help you reach them. If you have great people on your team, then you want to spend most of your time creating an environment that makes them want to STAY on your team! When people don't feel taken care of then they leave. Even if they don't leave, they'll be job-hunting every night. You don't want a team with one foot out the door. They aren't invested when they're one foot out the door and you want people who are invested.

Here are a few ideas for how to treat your best people:

  • Pay them what they're worth (you'll pay in other ways if you don't)
  • Give them autonomy to do their job in the way they feel best and is best suited to their personality (create clear goals and leave the 'how to' up to the individual)
  • Be generous with your time! I know spending time chit chatting is not something many managers feel is time well spent when there's a mounting 'to do' list, but let me tell you this little secret: people need chit chat. It makes them feel connected and when they feel connected they feel happy. Chit chat is not wasted time.
  • Create a clear job description! A top cited reason for people leaving their jobs is that they didn't have a clear job description. It may seem like a little thing, but it amounts to people not feeling confident that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing or that they are doing it well.
  • Always speak with kindness. It's easy to get frustrated when you're busy and you're leading a team. It's especially easy to get frustrated when that team drives you crazy WHEN you are busy. Leaders aren't perfect. They're people. Having said that, create a line for yourself that you won't cross. Don't lose your temper. Don't yell. Don't bark orders or speak down to people. Not only is it an ugly way to behave & not at all what you would want someone to do to you, but it will have dire consequences long-term on your team. They will not stay & they will lose respect fast. Walk away if you have to, but don't let yourself communicate unkindly. Leaders don't get the luxury of losing their shit in front of their team.

Barking orders and being militant can get results because people naturally don't want to disappoint you. I've had many managers who subscribe to this style of managing. I would argue that it's not leadership to behave like this. Yes, you are managing, but leadership is different. Leadership is managing people with the team at the center. The team's needs and strengths and frustrations all become yours to champion and sort through in order to get the job done with everyone loving life. That's a tall order and that's why most people aren't cut out for management. It's a skillset that takes a lot of patience and a lot of practice to get even OK at. Often you'll be championing the needs of the very team that's mad at you for not meeting another one of their needs! You have to be someone who understands that and doesn't take it personally. People are needy! I AM NEEDY! Managers... LEADERS... get that.

I have to say... there's a lot about business that I love but my favorite part of anything I do professionally is creating amazing teams and getting to work alongside them. It's fulfilling and exciting and it makes me feel like, "I was born for this!" I don't get it right every time - not even close - but when I connect with an employee or co-worker or boss in a way that matters and we achieve a goal together I think, "YESSSS!" It's so much more fun than doing anything on my own! Being "for" myself is easy. Being for others is TOUGH. But you know what? Easy isn't what we're up to. We are up to TOUGH THINGS done with love. Most things are tough before they get easier.

Tough builds muscle. Tough builds confidence. Tough builds leaders.





Meg WittComment