Whether its "good" or "bad,” we all have influence. This is a lesson I'm currently working hard to impress upon my 6-year-old son. Recently, he got the dreaded "note home" after a not so great behavior day at summer camp. When I addressed the issue and asked him, "why do your mother and I send you to school?" He noticed the serious tone in my voice, teared up, and then gave the rote response we've taught him since the early preschool days. "To listen, to learn, and to lead, daddy. I'm really sorry." After hugs of understanding, and after he wrote a short letter of apology to his teacher, I sat back and asked myself what I imagine all parents do when we give our children discipline, "Did I do that right? Was it too much or too little? What am I really trying to accomplish here?" If you are a parent, I know that you've been there before. If you aren't and plan on being one someday, you will. For today's 40for40 post let's talk about the root message that hopefully my son, and the people you work for, around and with, will embrace - being contagious.
Questions for consideration
Most people, correctly, do not consider being contagious as a good thing. It's important to wash hands thoroughly, take care of yourself, avoid unnecessary stress, and live the healthiest life possible. Clearly, I'm not advocating for slothfulness or contaminating the entire office suite by coming to work sick when you should be at home. To the contrary, what I am suggesting is that we take the time to assess how our presence influences the people, systems, and situations that are within our orbit at any given time. Ask yourself the following questions. When you are in the room are conversations generally positive or negative? Are you the go-to person for encouragement or gossip? Most days, are you generally content or dissatisfied? Last one - do you regularly create and innovate new ideas/technology/perspective, or tend to latch on to whatever the latest or easiest potential solution is to a problem?
I posed these questions in an attempt to shift your focus from how you perceive your environments to how your environments perceive you. I know...yes, this is a tough one. It's tough because, if we're really honest, we recognize that this type of assessment takes the focus from our lens (which we control) to the vantage points of others (which we do not). If you've ever wondered why you didn't quite "fit in" to a particular environment; of colleagues, associates, even families in some instances, it most likely was due to the fact that your value systems did not match. Therefore, what you assessed as valuable to the collective was not seen as so by others and vice versa. My challenge to you in this post is to do the internal work necessary to assess what you bring to your environments daily. Sometimes the problem is the people you work with, sometimes it's you. The unfortunate reality is that we often have the interpersonal or professional experiences we have because of what we attract. Obviously, this is not always the case, but the popular adage, "like attracts like," gained its merit over the years because of the conflicts of value that I've described here. I had an associate of mind tell me once that his direct report was "an egotistical, selfish, jerk (his words)" who admonished him one day by telling him that he "wasn't selfish enough to go and get what he wanted to be successful." Yikes! The person who told me this story went on to take a job with more pay, and a higher ceiling soon thereafter. In his case, he certainly appeared to be in an environment where the attitude of his boss was contagious in the most negative of ways. It produced an office filled with internal strife, backbiting, and a survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere that did not promote effective use of their scant publicly funded resources. Ultimately, not only did the employees suffer, but the community that their office served paid the highest costs.
What the heck does "being contagious" have to do with this?
The blessing and the challenge associated with being contagious is that people will be either drawn toward or away from you based on their reaction to what you bring to their environment. In the example I just highlighted, my associate was an outlier. Based on what I know about his character and what he shared with me, it's unlikely that there was much that he could have done to individually change the entire climate of his previous employer. That said, most likely his rejection of values that did not fit his personal ethics most likely led to him receiving the blessing of his next position. Good news travels fast, whether the people you are currently surrounded by appreciate it or not. What you do over the course of time is the true fabric of your reputation. I recently heard the statement that, "...most important decisions about your career aren't made when you're in the room, they are made when you aren't there." While a little rough around the edges, I appreciate the analogy. It highlights the reality that many colleagues, supervisors, and potential employers will discuss your "fit" for various professional opportunities when you are not around.
One line that I often relay to various audiences is that in life we often look for black and white answers to problems that are inherently gray. This is especially so when working with complex human beings or systems that either move too fast or too slowly for their own good. In these situations, change moves at a snail’s pace and it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what you do on a daily basis does not really matter in the long run. While this type of thinking is understandable, it is not necessarily practical. When my wife and I instruct our son to go to school to "listen, learn and lead." we do so knowing that much of what he attracts or repels in life will be based on the complex formula that includes; 1.) how he listens, learns, and leads himself and his peers and 2.) how people perceive and react to his actions. While there is no guarantee that following our instructions will lead him to wild success and riches in life; our instructions do insure that whether people respond to or reject the man he grows into, we pray that his influence...is contagious.