Yes, I’m embarrassed to admit that this is one of the songs that repeated in my head as I drove home from my third training session yesterday….”everyone knows an ant can’t/move a rubber tree plant/but he’s got high hopes/he’s got high hopes/he’s got high-apple-pie-in-the-sky hope…”
What can I say, I can be such a geek that I even I shake my head in disbelief.
Yesterday we met for our third training session – using Bruce Tulgan’s “It’s Ok To Be The Boss” as our framework. I like Tulgan; I love the participants in the program. I’m already dreading our last day – I have received more from this arbitrary group of people than I could ever provide them in return by facilitating these discussions. I need to share with you just some of what I have learned – or re-discovered while on this brief journey with this engaged group of people:
– Trust first, second, third, fourth…They demanded trust – from each other and from me at the outset of our program. Our ground rules began and ended with that premise – what happened in the program, stayed in the program. We would share openly, without filters with the understanding that I wanted to be challenged and I would reciprocate. What continues to inspire and delight is the amount of mutual respect that certainly has trust as its predicate, but is furthered by the efforts that are made to be of help to each other. Yesterday we spoke at length about some of the people – supervisors and supervisees – that present the inevitable frustrations and challenges that are faced on a daily basis. The energy expended in truly listening to the speaker and attempting to respond with constructive, alternative approaches was staggering. And tiring – we were all pretty fried when the day ended while still looking forward to next Thursday for another exercise in enthusiastic exhaustion.
– A network of people who do what you do, experience similar difficulties, share parallel objectives can provide more than just an opportunity to vent (which has its benefits, no doubt). Your network can provide relevant suggestions, commiseration, a dose of humor, perspective and a sounding board for testing new ideas or strategies before bringing them forward to the powers-that-be. And people in your network will hold you accountable to participate in kind.
– Shame on the C-level or director-level people who encouraged the participants’ attendance and never really intended to help them move forward with the very real challenges that these managers are facing all the time. Since most of the people who read this blog never worked with me, I can risk being redundant – hopefully without boring you. Law firms face some difficulties which we haven’t addressed for years – an overabundance of local and global administrative resources who aren’t busy, aren’t being re-tooled and are largely being ignored because it’s the easiest option. Many firms are not as busy as they once were and work is not being distributed evenly – some partners handle the work typically completed by senior associates, associates grab for paralegal work, paralegals take on administrivia and ennui creeps into the environment like some sort of ivy from “Little Shop Of Horrors”. Expectations and a sense of entitlement permeate the air, along with the hum of people listening to their iPods while shopping on Amazon or Groupon. We realize this has happened; we haven’t made the hard decisions that would allow people to move forward.
We have been working during these training sessions – and these managers can provide some terrific thoughts about shaking off this pervasive inertia – an engaged leader would listen to them. These are smart, committed, devoted people who want to get their departments operating at the highest professional levels. Listen to them – do more than just asking if s/he liked the course.
– We are a team. We are proof of the distinction between a group of people who happen to be serendipitously thrown together by time and circumstance. We call each other on the play we did (or didn’t) effect, support each other as we strive to fulfill both individual and group objectives and decisions are transparent. The day is long, we take short breaks, bring our lunch in and get back in the game because we are all in it. As one person lags during the 2:00 PM ‘I need a nap’ moment, another encourages him/her out of it with a cup of coffee (or the recommendation to get up and move around). The rhythm of the day changes all the time – it’s my job to feel the ebb and flow and get us through in the most effective way possible. That also means I often lead from behind – in other words, I let someone else take control of the conversation. It gives others the chance to control the direction of our dialogue, gives voice to specific concerns and provides a ‘safe’ place for people to practice their leadership skills.
– At the end of each session, each person writes about their ‘take-away’ from the day. I take away a renewed awe at the tremendous results effected by a team of people from different generations with different cultural and ethnic histories (so much more than that which can happen with a cookie cutter group of people). I take away laughter and questions still to be answered and the humbling experience of watching someone have an “aha” moment. I take away anticipation for next week and tremendous appreciation for having had the opportunity to spend the day with people who really want to exceed their own expectations. I look forward, as always with “High Hopes”. Happy weekend everybody.