It’s 1:30 am and three fully kitted out Firefighters are standing beside me in our bedroom. No there wasn’t a fire, and I wasn’t having a dream. I had woken my husband because I couldn’t breathe properly, and after two hours of this I decided I needed help. After discussing whether he should drive me to hospital, some 40 minutes away, and my concern about the journey, he dialled 111 for the ambulance. Our one local ambulance was already taking a patient to hospital so first response where we live is the Fire Brigade! They gave me oxygen and stayed until the ambulance with the paramedics duly arrived.
I had already been sick for two weeks with bronchitis and on this night had been having a coughing attack for some hours which brought on the breathlessness. But it is how this all occurred that is the point of this story. We had spent a day piling mulch on our garden in preparation for a visit by the judges for the Master Builders Award competition. Our house builder had entered our new home into this year’s awards. We have mulched before and I know that working with garden mix and compost, it is high advisable to wear a mask. I had mulched on previous occasions without a mask and no problems so I didn’t think it was necessary. I spent several hours close to the fumes, and that night had a headache and felt nauseous. Tests the following week showed that I had a fungal infection usually caused by compost and mulch.
Knowledge Isn't Everything
Our past experiences don’t always serve us well. Just because we have done something a certain way and it has worked doesn’t mean it will be the same next time, particularly when it has to do with human beings!
Although most of my workshops with clients are in-house, I do hold open workshops about three times a year. The managers who attend either choose to come themselves; or, a manager, who has already been on a workshop with me sponsors one of their managers to attend. To assist with enrolment I always take time to hold an in-take call, or meet for coffee with the participants, prior to the workshop. This has proved to be very helpful and assists me to see that everyone gains value.
The Assumptions People Make
Last month my Turning Leadership Inside-Out workshop had a range of people attending it.
They included ‘Baby Boomers’, Gen Xs and Millennials (GenYs). A diverse group of managers who are all in leadership roles with teams, including a managing director and owner of a manufacturing business, a customer services manager, a telecommunications engineer manager with a team of fifteen engineers and some young managers with less experience. Their expectations were mainly about learning how to deal with their most ‘difficult’ people.
I let everyone know that this was not going to be a typical skills-based two day course with a list of ‘how tos’. It was about their personal development as leaders, and that we would focus on the commonalities of how all human beings operate regardless of ages, experience, ethnicity etc.. By the afternoon of the first day some of their comments revealed that they spend far too much time analysing and following processes which are instilled in them by their organisations. What this didn’t allow for was the human factor and how unpredictable people can be. Just because we may have a personal experience of a situation, it doesn’t necessarily apply to others.
By the end of the two days these managers were in a very different space. I let them know that we can’t know what situations we will face, but the insights that they had had, and what they had learned about human beings, would equip them for life. They now know that they already have the resources within them to deal with any situation whether it is personal or professional. During the follow-up calls they shared some significant changes in the way they had handled some events since the workshop and laughed about how easy and effortless it can be not to be stressed.
Change Happens From the Inside-Out
The coaching calls also revealed some important messages for me. Despite the time I spent at the beginning of the workshop most of the managers said they came with their existing thinking about what leadership was all about. One of the managers had recently attended a leadership skills programme run by her company worldwide and she had attended it in Sydney. She said that the two days with me was a revelation and admitted that she hadn’t really listened to what I said at the beginning of the workshop as she had assumed it would be more of the same, but of course it wasn’t. It had been life-changing for her both for her leadership role and personally.
The managing director, who has headed up multinational companies, said it really changed the way he thought about his leadership role. His wealth of experience actually got in the way of handling some challenging employee situations. He had put someone in a box because he compared her with another person who seemed to have the same challenges and found that both knowledge and history cannot necessarily be applied to all people or situations. Others described the two days as insightful, enlightening, an eye opener, and revealing as to how easy it is to get set in our ways and make assumptions.
Slowing Down To Run Faster
Taking time to set the scene for the two days, and what the workshop was really about, was also
a good reminder for me as the facilitator. The managers told me that they realised by day two that their listening was poor and really didn’t hear what I was saying. How often does this happen at meetings in the workplace or with family members? I knew that with overnight reflection and some reading, the second day would be different. The conversations then went deeper, they became more insightful and so did their listening to each other.
In summary, the managers came with a whole set of knowledge and experiences. This can hinder the opportunity for new insights and thinking about the commonalities that are true about how we think and the potential consequences. I spent time asking them more questions than giving them answers. Now they are equipped to handle any situation with some fresh thinking. And next time I do any mulching I will wear a proper mask!