The six hour flight from Tel Aviv was late so I rushed through Heathrow to catch my connecting flight home to Birchrunville. Facing another nine hours in an airplane, I was happy to have snagged a business class seat. Then I boarded the American Airlines flight and my mood suddenly changed…
Beat up old-style seats. No place to put anything. No fancy privacy pods, no outlets, no cool video. Actually no video at all until the flight attendant came by with her hands full of electronic equipment for me to assemble and create my own video screen. Very weird.
The woman seated next to me looked over and said, “quite a disappointment. They should have given us a discount or at least mentioned we were flying a wreck so old they haven’t bothered to install new seats…or even fix these falling apart antiques.”
A kindred soul! Things were looking up again.
This happens often. You wind up in disappointing situations that you can ignore, get upset about, or turn into adventures that lead to unexpected pleasure. Ignore her comments and continue to mope about my decrepit surroundings? Offer a cursory response and turn my back and read? Or get into the moment and see where it leads?
Most people seem to choose the ignore or read option. Rather than take the opportunity to see where such a random event might lead, they tune out and the opportunity passes them by. Then they complain not only about their poor flight, bad restaurant, or mediocre meeting, but also about the fact that nothing happened to inspire them.
Serendipity visits us all. Some pay attention and respond to it but many others never notice it knocking, or what’s even worse, they notice but ignore it, considering it an inconvenience.
Serendipity: a fortunate happenstance. Yet few will notice and even fewer will explore to find the fortune hidden within. They fail to keep an open mind and pay attention and so they pass right by new ideas and opportunities they never imagined.
Serendipity: an opportunity to turn time on a lousy airplane into something exhilarating.
My seatmate and I wound up spending the majority of the nine hours engaged in an energizing conversation. She from the metropolis of Johannesburg and I from the hamlet of Birchrunville discovered we shared many ideas on how to make companies function better. Even cooler, we discovered we both were putting these ideas into practice around the world. We shared stories about past and current projects and how we helped create effective leadership teams and improved cultures of organizations.
From an inauspicious beginning, the flight turned into an invigorating experience for both of us. As we approached Philadelphia International Airport, we prepared to disembark, each of us carrying new ideas for helping our clients and many other things to think about. We finally introduced ourselves and traded business cards. I left with an invitation to visit Wendy in Johannesburg…which I expect to do before too long. If all goes well, there’s a joint project in our future.
And the seats and electronics…and airplane…soon destined for the trash heap? We completely forgot about them.
My seatmate: Wendy Lambourne, Director (and founder) Legitimate Leadership, South Africa…and the world. Read her book called, what else, Legitimate Leadership, and find some wonderful ways to improve your organization.
As you probably know, I like to talk. More than that, I like to observe and listen. In the last few weeks my travels for the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum and for my own company, Benari, took me to such far-flung places as board rooms and business schools in Israel and cancer centers in Ghana and Senegal. I had an opportunity to watch all kinds of people in action and listen to their stories about striving to ensure great success for their organizations.
I noticed a common theme I’ve often seen wherever I am, seen in many different forms and heard through many different words. It kept appearing time and again. You’re very familiar with what I’m talking about. It’s something you do. And something I do too.
In one case I watched the boss accuse the people working on a project he was overseeing of being stupid and lazy, and not caring if the work was completed well. In another I witnessed someone continually interrupting whoever was speaking and interjecting his own ideas without letting them finish their thought. In a third, several people implore their indecisive boss to just make a decision so they would know what to do.
The action or lack of action I observed in each case was different but the effect was the same. It was negative. For both people and the organization.
We all do things, either through action or inaction, that impair our ability to help those around us and our organizations be the best they can be.
Mostly we’re oblivious to the impact of our actions. The boss telling his people how stupid they are probably thinks this will somehow motivate them. The co-worker who kept interrupting achieved his goal of getting his point across, but at the expense of keeping someone else’s idea from being heard. And the results of NOT making a decision are just as destructive…wasted time and effort, confused people going in the wrong direction, an inability to move forward.
So in the New Year spirit of self-improvement, and thereby improvement in the lives and work of those around us, let’s each decide to perform this little exercise.
During a team meeting or session with a group you work with often, ask each person individually to share the one thing you do that helps them and the organization function well. Write down their responses. Then steal yourself. Tell them to be open and honest as they share the one thing they’d like you to either stop doing or start doing for their benefit and for the good of the organization. Hold back from commenting on their answers other than to ask a clarifying question to make sure you really understand what they’re saying. Once again, write down what they offer.
Then pick one thing from the second list to either start or stop doing. It may not be difficult to choose. (Sometimes you’ll hear the same or similar things from everyone!) Share your choice with the group in this exact format: “I commit to start or stop _______________ for the good of all of you and the organization. “
Now for the hard part. Ask them to hold you to it by telling you when you stray. Again, no protests when they call you out for transgressions. Take it as helpful advice on your journey of improvement.
Regularly check in with your colleagues to make sure you’re still on course. In a few months, after you’ve fully incorporated this new behavior, begin the cycle again and pick another thing to work on until you’ve mastered it. By the end of the year you’ll be amazed at the impact of your changes on yourself and your organization.
Not only will you be on better footing with the people you work with, you’ll also find that everyone joins in to change an aspect of their own behavior…if everyone works on something, imagine what a positive effect that will have on the success of your organization. And imagine how much better your organization will be.