For about three weeks in mid-May, the world returned to normal at the Flowers house. Britton and Sam returned home from college and Jack was coming down the home stretch of his junior year in high school. Momma was happy to have all her chicks back in the nest and since momma was happy … well, you know.
Of course, if you have kids this stage of life, you realize that “having them home” is a loose term. The boys showed up (mysteriously) at the regularly scheduled feeding times, but then spent time catching up with friends or anywhere in general away from their parents.
On one morning, we all managed to get up close to the same time (a rarity for families with college age kids), and met at the dining room table. Right on schedule, the zoo lions sat there expectantly waiting for their breakfast while Mom gulped her coffee quickly to become coherent enough to join us.
Before everyone scattered for the day, I threw out the following question.
“So … what’s everyone got planned for the day?”
I felt like it was a good opening question. Well placed during a lull so as not to seem too eager or like I was snooping. Simple, yet thought provoking. I expected the answers to roll in effortlessly to get our day started.
Christy, however, had other ideas. She took us down a rabbit hole that was hard to follow at such an early hour.
“Well, Traci and Genie were thinking about going to pick blueberries, but it’s the last weekend Traci’s mom will be here before she goes to Yellowstone for the summer. Isn’t it great that her parents do that? Promise me we will be that spontaneous when we get to be that age. Promise?” She looked at me.
I nodded. She continued.
“Boys, you be good to your wives one day. Be spontaneous. Life is supposed to be fun. Joyful. It’s up to you to make a difference in your families.”
I looked around the table. The zoo lions furrowed their brows as they listened to their den mother. They were growing restless, agitated. Her words confused them. I let them sniff my hand before placing some biscuits in front of them on the table. The situation improved.
Until Sam spoke up.
“When you say ‘what’s everyone got planned for the day’, do you mean like everyone in the world? I mean, how would we know what everyone had planned for today?”
Point taken. Silly me, I should have clarified that I was talking to only those in the room with me at the time.
Jack, the deep thinker, followed with, “Why are you asking? Is this a test? Depending on how we answer are you going to use it as blog material in the future, or do you really want to know what we are doing today?”
I guess they are a little gun shy given my history of using my family as the subject of my anecdotes. Case and point would be today’s blog. Hmm … maybe Jack has a legitimate gripe. While I contemplated my own motivation, Britton, the polite one, simply said,
“I’m watching the Cavaliers play the Raptors at seven. Might have a few people over. Is that ok?”
Bless you, my child.
If this happens in my family, I bet it happens in yours too. Families share similar DNA, yet everyone approaches a question differently.
What about at work? The questions and the DNA get more diverse and complicated. Employees bring varied life experiences, unique personalities, and different expectations with them to work and leaders are left to figure it out.
So how does a leader do it? Well, for starters, integrity goes a long way. I wrote about that here last week. People from all facets of life respond favorably to strong character—provided it is displayed consistently and fairly.
Beyond integrity, rather than give you a laundry list of do’s and don’ts that you will forget by lunch time, try this one thing. Follow the advice of former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch. In a conversation with one of his lieutenants about handling people, he gave her this advice:
Wallow in it.
That’s right, wallow. Here is what he meant. Leaders too often enter into a situation or issue with the belief that they must fix the problem quickly. Find resolution and then on to the next problem. In this model, the leader holds the power, the authority, and the wisdom—all knowledge flows towards the leader.
Welch’s advice to his protégé was the opposite. Wallow. Take time to allow the solution to bubble up from those close to the problem instead of dictating the answer. What you trade in “wasted” time, you will more than make up for in engagement and development of those around you—which if you haven’t heard, leads to greater productivity.
As a consultant, I help leaders interact, appreciate, and respect diverse teams, but it is still eye-opening when I experience it at home. I asked one question and listened to four very different answers. What could you learn as a leader from asking questions and listening today? Take time to wallow and find out!
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