Half way back down from our 12km World’s View hike in Pietermaritzburg yesterday (we had seeee-rious Mother’s Day pancakes for breakfast, and Jono had done the hike with his school the previous week and wanted to show me), I asked my son what he thought I should write my article on for today. His response was immediate. “Perseverance. Then you can tell them how we nearly died twice on this hike, (once on a not-so-short short-cut, and once when we nearly got eaten by a puff adder), but we didn’t give up when it was hard and we still got all the way there and back.”
So here we are. Perseverance. The more I thought about it, the more I realised how present that trait needs to be if we’re ever going to get anywhere worth getting, and how much of it I’ve seen lately in the teams I’m working with. I haven’t personally achieved anything worth shouting about without having to persevere through some fairly heavy stuff, and I can’t think of anyone I know who has. Every week, I deal with people who are trying to make change in their teams, in their businesses and in their market place. The term “you can’t turn a ship on a dime” has been used more than once recently. Real change takes time.
I’m also working with numerous business leaders and teams who are facing extremely trying times, challenges and workloads. Another metaphor that’s been used a lot lately is that of drowning. They say drowning doesn’t look like you think it does. It doesn’t consist of lots of splashing and shouting but is almost silent with the person losing their fight and slipping under un-noticed. I’m seeing this happening in teams more and more as the various pressures mount.
Last week we spoke about responsibility and how much responsibly is too much. There’s a point at which taking too much responsibility can be harmful to ourselves and to others. We must regulate ourselves. Perseverance, likewise, has its tipping point. For us to get somewhere worth going, we must acknowledge all the clichés (Rome wasn’t built in a day etc) and persevere towards the destination or goal we know is worth having. We must acknowledge that change happens slowly once we start implementing new things and celebrate the small wins that indicate we’re moving in the right direction without getting too hard on ourselves and our team. One foot in front of the other at a slow and steady pace as long as we can see those positive indicators. That’s healthy perseverance.
Another part of perseverance is the ability to look positively at problems. When challenges present themselves, when systems aren’t working and when the odd wheel falls off – the ability to look at the issue with a version of Benjamin Zander’s “How fabulous!” and see it for the opportunity it is (a pointer to where focus and revised strategy is needed) is a superpower. It’s far more useful to be faced with a problem that sticks out than one that lurks beneath the surface.
Regulating ourselves requires that we know when to admit it’s not working and a change of plan is needed (like us and our short-cut).
What I see increasingly, though, are people trying to take full responsibility for their roles without asking for help and persevering to the point of drowning. They put their heads down and take on the full brunt of change, challenge and workload. They feel they should be able to handle it; they don’t want to fail or let the side down; they don’t want to be the weakest link; they don’t want to feel stupid because it’s more than they can handle. Sometimes, change adds considerable workload and new pressures. Often, people put their heads down and continue to work harder and harder, even though they don’t seem to be making any headway. And the drowning is silent.
No man is an island, and for us to be truly successful, we must make use of the team around us. Again, this is as true at home as it is at work. Find your middle mark – the mark at which you can gain satisfaction from the small indications you see that things are intentionally improving, but a mark you don’t want to be on the wrong side of before you ask for help. Put your hand up. Speak out about the challenges you’re facing and ask for what you need. More time. More training. More involvement from other team members. A new plan. New insight. Clarification. Whatever it is, keeping your head down until you drown isn’t helpful as a team member. Team members collaborate. Team members help to encourage each other and create a safe space for discussion. Team members check on each other.
And leaders….. Leaders persevere in a mindful way that appreciates the amount of time needed to make big change; turn the ship; climb the mountain. Leaders remember to look up towards the further, bigger goal and recalibrate their thinking occasionally. Leaders check on their team members – ESPECIALLY the quiet ones. Because contrary to the “no news is good news” theory, they know that the quiet ones might be drowning. Leaders model steady perseverance. They also stop occasionally to check their route and recalibrate. Leaders celebrating wins and make sure they let their teams blow off steam before they continue the hike.
by Christen Killick
May 13th, 2019