|By Dan Gerry, Senior Partner, Soaring Eagle Institute
Have you also noticed that the world in general and the world of work in particular has become even more stressful and serious these days? Is this the new norm that all of us need to get used to and live with–fewer resources, more responsibilities, fear of layoffs, an economy that just can’t seem to recover?
Maybe a lot of the world is experiencing this, but we are also seeing workplaces that are less about struggle and more about creativity, innovation and even playfulness.
I was visiting recently with a good friend who has worked in specialty nursing for many years in the health care industry. In many of our prior conversations she’s gone on and on about the many problems in her workplace–too many patients, too few staff, high stress, fears about the next layoff or staff reduction, everybody hunkered down trying to survive the daily grind —sound familiar?
But now she was singing a new and more upbeat tune about her new managing physician and how he was bringing a fresh outlook to the clinic.
Knowing that she has a very intense job treating patients with drug overdoses, PTSD and severe psychological disorders, I was surprised by how much her morale and energy level had shifted in such a short time. Was it possible that just a seemingly small change could move her so quickly from dreading work to looking forward to each day with renewed energy and enthusiasm? I had to know more about her new physician in charge!
My friend’s face and voice lit up as she began telling me how much her new boss loves his work, laughs and kids around, and seems genuinely interested in the well-being of patients and staff alike. She was surprised, she told me, when he asked her what she thought was going well and what could be improved in the unit, and even more surprised when he told her he wanted her to join him during new patient intake interviews. He told her that together they would be able to more accurately assess incoming patients’ needs and develop more creative and appropriate treatment plans than if he followed tradition and did this by himself.
What she seemed most touched by was his playful and loving nature. Somehow in a couple of weeks he’d been able to lower the stress level, make work more fun, improve teamwork and even get the staff to feel a renewed sense of pride and accomplishment.
I was struck by her frequent use of the word “playful” as she described her boss’s actions and the positive effects his playful nature was having on staff member morale and patient outcomes in the unit. Doesn’t health care have to be one of the most serious and stressful workplaces of all? Apparently not!
She brought to mind a similar experience I had in 9th grade with a remarkable teacher–still vivid in my memory after all these years.
Peter Dunn-Rankin was a late-20’s new instructor hired to teach advanced math courses at my junior high school on the West Coast of Florida. He stood out as the only teacher who seemed genuinely happy to be there.
I can still see him walking down the hall whistling a tune and greeting his students with a warm smile. There were rumors that he was single and spent his free time digging clams with his toes in the shallows of the nearby bay, lending credence to the notion that he was a “free spirit”.
As we gathered on the first day of class he explained that we were part of an experiment—that this was the first year Plane Geometry was being taught in the 9th grade in Florida schools and that we would be using a newly published book that he had not had time to read or study. He said something we had never heard from a teacher: that we knew as much as he did about the subject and that we would each strive to figure out the solution or proof of each theorem. Whoever was first to discover the proof got to write it on the chalk board and show the rest of the class how it was done.
Can you imagine the atmosphere in that class? You could hear a pin drop as each of us, including Peter, would work feverishly at our desks to prove the theorem assigned, literally running to his desk to be first with the answer…hoping anxiously to see if we got it right. The satisfaction of getting to go to the board and write out the correct proof and explain how you got it was absolutely priceless. Suddenly the “work” of school had become a great game in this class and boy did we work hard, play and laugh our way to amazing new levels of understanding Plane Geometry!
Have you ever worked with a leader that brought out the best that you had to offer? Did he or she have similar qualities of playfulness, love for their work, a strong bias toward excellence, and a firm belief that people will rise to challenges and play their “A Games” when given the opportunity?
My friend’s new boss and my 9th grade teacher are two examples of what we at Soaring Eagle Institute refer to as conscious leaders who know how to “Play the Game of Business”. To what extent otherwise competent leaders or managers bring conscious awareness to work appears to be a significant determinant of workplace morale, engagement and exceptional results.
What do we mean by “conscious awareness?” In our experience, these leaders are consciously aware of and take full responsibility for their own mindsets and actions and they are consciously aware of their impact on others. Conscious leaders see possibilities in even the most dreadful circumstances and keep their mindsets focused on a positive future vision that inspires those around them to give their best in every moment.
When things aren’t going well they display resilience and a sense of humor that serves to ease stress and help everyone stay focused on what matters most. A core trait of these leaders is that they intentionally seek to discover and fully utilize all the resources at their disposal, starting with the talents and skills of each individual. They have developed a knack for seeing greatness in others.
As we saw in the two leaders profiled above, it was all about the leader creating a vibrant, playful and highly productive environment where each person was highly motivated to give his/her best–not about the leader needing to take control of everything, blame others for problems and take personal credit for any successes.
So, how well do you and others in your workplace “play” together?
If you take stock and observe that your business and/or personal life has been far more about struggle than play, right now is a great time to step back, take a deep breath and invite a new perspective.
If you run a business and you’ve managed to survive the recent downturn you undoubtedly have done the right things to control costs, hang in there and keep your doors open. Perhaps now is the time to bring some play back into the equation. Are there some actions you can take, as these conscious leaders did, to breathe new life into your business?
If you’re looking for greater inspiration and practical tools for creating new possibilities, Soaring Eagle Institute specializes in helping clients become more conscious as leaders, team members and independent contributors. We can also provide customized training, coaching or consulting to help you and your staff achieve far greater results.
Struggling with particular issues at work? Tell us about a challenge you are facing and how it’s affecting you and your work. The person who submits the best story will receive a free hour of coaching with Dan!
We look forward to reading your comments and learning from your experiences!