Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Life as a series of surrenders?

A teenager at an AA meeting once described life as a series of surrenders.  He was wise beyond his years...

We can barely control our bodily functions, and sometimes we can control what words come out of our mouths.  So little of what happens is under our control... if we cannot accept that fact we end up frustrated and/or angry much of the time.

Until we accept, or surrender to the fact that so much is out of our control we cannot embrace or change whatever is happening.  Once we accept that things are the way they are; that the people around us will do what they do, we have a chance to work with what is happening in order to make a change.

A good example of this is what Whole Foods Market seems to be doing with animal welfare standards, along with their work with the Marine Stewardship Council.  Whole Foods has been criticized for selling products from producers that may have questionable practices.  However I think that the company knows that they cannot change these industries from the outside.  In order to create positive change in the way animals are treated they have to create relationships with the people they would like to see change.  That means, in the short term, selling seafood and meat from producers that don't meet the standards the company would like to see.  However it is only through working with and developing a relationship with those producers that any future change can happen.

As leaders we certainly can't control the behavior of our team members.  Many people will try, through threats of a consequence, or simply commanding, however the fact is we cannot make anyone do anything.  What we can do is work to create trusting relationships with the people around us.  Once they know that we are working for their success (and they are working for their success), they will come to want to do what we ask them to do.  Even more, I've found that my team members will go beyond what needs to be done and find new ways to improve things simply because they want to be a part of a successful team; that is once they know that my goals for them match up with their goals for themselves.

I recently talked to my store team leader about trust.  His thought was that when he goes to lead a new team everyone starts out with an empty 'trust' account, and each person has to earn his trust.  I couldn't disagree more.  In order to be trusted we need to trust!  For my team members, I trust that each of them is doing the best they can with the tools they have (and having built relationships with them I know what each is capable of so I don't ask too much of them and put them in situations they cannot handle).  I trust that each of them wants to do a good job and be part of a successful team.  I trust that if any of them has a problem or issue they will feel comfortable talking to me about it.  I might not be able to fix it, or give them exactly what they want, and (I hope) they trust that they will at least be heard.

I should probably say that my definition of 'trustworthy' matches Andy Stanley's (I love his leadership podcast)... you are trustworthy as long as you are the first one to tell me about your mistakes.  In talking to my store team leader I said mistakes are not just ok... they are expected!  If you are not making mistakes then you are not taking any chances.  And if we are not taking chances and trying new things we cannot be moving forward.  We can't expect forward movement without making some waves!
Surrender to what is.  Stop fighting or resisting.  Only then can we affect change.

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