My mother tells me that when I was a small infant she would have to frequently check on me during naps for fear that I would die of asphyxiation . You see I had a peculiar habit of getting so frustrated even at the age of some odd months, that I would clench my little baby fists and work myself into a silent, red faced, sweaty fit. She feared that in my fit I’d stop breathing.
This lovely trait has luckily since subsided into a more adult and manageable temperament . This being said, one of my inner fears is that if one were to ask folks that have worked with me to compare me to a creature of some kind that they might choose a cockroach due to its stubborn ability to live on things like small bits of postage stamp glue for periods on end. I resent this trait I was born with quite often (well, I can’t personally live on postage glue but my ability to hold out stubbornly is perhaps a bit analogous to that). You see, I fight it because I also happen to believe that I am called to a life of humility and self deprecation based on many of my personal faith tenets. So, in my personal inner war, I temper my own temper continually. However, where I can utilize my innate strong will for something good, I upon occasion am thankful for the red faced and tight fisted little infant.
The purpose of today’s blog entry, though I am going about it in a long winded fashion, is to speak to the importance of tenacity and fierce determination in the workplace. Specifically, it is to speak to how we can and should be developing our employees and leaders of tomorrow to possess this trait. It’s my fervent belief that deep down people are motivated by a challenge, if properly challenged and motivated. I remember seeing this in action a few years ago when I and a fellow developing leader got the news of our soon to be new boss. Now in this story let me say that my fellow developing leader was way smarter than me and ten times more tenacious (and as such achieved VP status at a record young age). I suspect he would in the world of analogies be the cockroach who lives a record breaking two years on a postage stamp. But, I digress. In any event I remember distinctly when our fun and lively boss who was leaving the company gave us our departing pep talk. She was preparing us for the feared horror of reporting into the new leader who possessed two Ivy League degrees and who few leaders, even of VP caliber, were able to please. We were shaking in our boots you might say as the “little guys” getting ready to get thrown to hungry sharks. But I’ll never forget what my boss who was leaving said to me, and what powerful emotion it evoked. She said to me, “You two will be just fine, because you both enjoy a challenge.” As I entered this new reporting relationship with my new boss who lived up to all the stories I had heard (though I have to admit I grew to deeply admire him), I kept myself motivated by that simple statement about enjoying a challenge. It stuck with me just like the glue on the postage stamp. It kept me motivated and whenever I was about to give up I’d remember, no, wait, I am a person who enjoys a good challenge and who doesn’t let it beat her.
I decided through that experience that there must be something inside people that rises up when a person challenges them while also believing in them. I’m not saying that there aren’t things that can break us. I’ve had a few situations in my life that teetered on the brink of breaking me, some of them very recent and so I make my statements very humbly. But I am saying that we need to respect and guide that innate sense of need to rise up and accomplish in those that work for us, and in everyone on our teams.
I’ve seen the power of this belief in action with folks that have worked for me. Like the recruiter who worked for me a few years ago and started with just a little recruiting for our $70 million division. I challenged her and pushed her to split time to fill in half as we were growing. I told her she, we, could do it. Today she is a respected leadership recruiter for a large territory of a multi billion dollar organization, and I’m sure there is a fair chance she out earns me. Or, I think of another associate on another one of my teams who was at the brink of being terminated by an executive in the company. In this case our whole team stepped up, learned together, partnered together and I coached and challenged this associate to step up and lean into the resources available. This associate later went on to have book studies and a great professional relationship with the very executive who was at first a fear factor. Finally, I also think of each time I watch my 6th grade son out there on the basketball court. The boys on his team work so hard and it’s very common for tears to be shed and heads to be hung low with exacerbated facial expressions when they are losing. But then I watch the coaches step up and given them a tough love talk, believe in them, and send them out there again to pick up the pace, fight for it, and win. What I’m saying is that even though we work in tidy, sterile and perhaps at times mundane little office environments, we all possess the heart and spirit of a fighter inside. If you dig deep enough, if you believe hard enough, if you challenge those who work for you to step up, if you are a passionate coach and tenacious champion, you just may find that work suddenly gets a little more exciting. You may find that performance outcomes suddenly rock your little business world because when you tap into this potential and spirit in people things get kinda exciting. And, more important than all the success and dollars stuff (‘cuz that stuff after all isn’t what makes us happy or what folks remember when we die), you’ll find that your life is a little more meaningful because you suddenly make work about relationships and building human spirits up. Relational management is so worth it. It’s okay to shed a few fears. It’s okay to love a little. It’s really okay to care about your people and believe in them.
So, thanks to my boss with the Harvard and University of Pennsylvania IQ who challenged me. Thanks to the folks I was blessed to lead who inspired me by accomplishing something awesome when faced with a challenge. Like the sayings goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!