Most of us have read and quickly grasped Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, by Richard Carlson. In the context of his writing, that is probably pretty good advice. However, when it comes to managing and leading people, the small stuff really seems to matter.
This was driven home to me this week when I was out touring one of our hospital facilities. We had an opportunity to see, first hand, the great work that the nurses, staff and administrators do to take care of our patients. I will say that group of people deserve huge accolades. They give of themselves tirelessly and passionately, never allowing one person to feel like they are simply just another number.
One of the nurses giving us a tour said that she works for her hospital because of the manager who she first worked for in a temporary basis. She said, “I just loved my manager, so when she asked me to come on full time, I jumped at the chance.” I asked her what it was that made her love her manager. She said, “You want to know what the key to being a great manager is?” Of course as a leadership coach, I was anxious to hear her describe it. I am not sure what I was thinking might come next, but the answer she gave was not it. She said, “The key to being a great manager is ensuring I get my 30 minute lunch break.” She went on to explain that the job of a nurse never lets up as long as there are patients with needs and paperwork to complete. She said if the manager didn’t insist that we take our break, none of us would, except the smokers. She went on to say how important it is for her to get the break, step away from the demands, catch her breath, relax a moment, or make a phone call.
As I said, that is not what I expected to hear, but it drives home how important it is for a manager to be truly sensitive and responsive to the needs of their employees, especially the “Small Stuff”. This is only one example of managers and leaders at this hospital making this a daily practice. As a result, we witnessed fully engaged, smiling and happy employees who were passionate about their work and taking care of their patients, or as they put it, Friends and Family Taking Care of Friends and Family in their community. I am confident that the result of their efforts will be equally satisfied patients and doctors whom this group serves.
You have looked around yourself at work and things are not going as you would like. The team does not seem to be communicating well or working together effectively. Or you have just returned from an incredibly valuable training conference and you can see numerous things that could be improved to make a difference. You try to share your ideas, but they seem to fly past your colleagues with nothing seeming to stick. You have little authority to command the attention of your colleagues or to impose the changes that you believe would make a difference. What do you do? In such circumstances it is easy to become frustrated and consider giving up. However, you know that giving up is not in your DNA, and finding a new job right now is just not in the cards. What can you do?
I have been a student of systems theory since my graduate education in marriage and family therapy which was shaped by that philosophy. One key component of systems theory is that movement or change in one party in a system can dramatically affect all the other parties. While marriage and family therapy is much more effective when we have as many parties in the room as possible, we learned that if other members of the system are resistant to therapy, changes made by one party can make a significant difference in the functioning of the entire system.
Like a Kaleidoscope, when one piece shifts, the entire picture changes dramatically. This aspect of systems theory applies to any type of human system, including your team or company. You can make a significant difference in your organization simply by shifting your behavior, style, reaction, response, interactions, etc. While it would be ideal for everyone in your organization to be on the same page, it is a rare occurrence. And, while it would be ideal for every team member to go through the same training program that you just went through, it is not always possible. The reason organizations keep on training is because they know that even one person shifting their behavior, approach, style or response will shift the entire organization.
So, make the difference you can make. Keep on sharing your ideas. They may eventually stick. Keep on adjusting your behavior and style to achieve greater effectiveness. You never know who will learn from you. Modify your interactions with another team member and watch how their behavior or response shifts. If you have been in disagreement and conflict, shift from advocacy to inquiry. If you have been avoiding, try speaking up by offering your thoughts and ideas. If you have been acquiescing for the sake of peace, make the elephant in the room visible and see what happens. If you have given up, go gather new data and analysis that will help you support your ideas. Or, consider researching your colleagues opposing idea with in-depth analysis so you may better understand the rationale for the case they are making. There are a lot of things one person can do to make a difference. Giving up is not one of them!