When no one is Looking

Growing up, my older brother by 16 months and I found endless ways to drive each other mad. There were other siblings in the house, but the two of us found great sport in psychological sibling warfare with each other. One of my brother’s favorite tricks was to ask me to help him sew a button on his shirt, in front of my mother. An accomplished Boy Scout, he knew full well how to sew on a button. Making the request in front of my mother was the first volley of his game to get me wound up.

Change Champ

Of course I fell for it, every time. I volleyed right back, protested, “He can sew on his own button, Mom!” only to be scolded by my Mother. “It’s the least you could do for your brother.” Oh, the agony of defeat. A noisy, embarrassing defeat. Not only did I have to sew on the button, I was in trouble with my mother for not being a team player. He won that round all because my mother was watching.

It reminds me of other behaviors we do when someone is watching…

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are prime examples. “What did you do for Mother’s Day?” Oh, that question! There is great obligation to join in these holidays because they are big days of others watching. These holidays are a great way to appreciate someone, but if it’s offered just one day a year, is it the best you can do?

Religious holidays like Christmas offer stunning examples. Christmas Day and Easter, my father would mumble about people “coming out of the woodwork” for service. Why is the church full on Christmas day but not on December 5? Religious holidays are a great way to celebrate, but if it’s offered up just one day a year, is it the best you can do?

Leaders who pull out all the stops for high profile meetings and events are probably doing the right thing. But what about the other 39 hours (or more) of the week? Retreating back to the safety of a highly structured calendar after the meeting…is it the best you can do?

The real sweet spot of being a change leader is in the consistent, daily legwork with your team. The kind of work done when no one is looking. This steady work is different for every leader, but it includes making yourself available to remove impediments and champion your vision, and usually includes making yourself vulnerable in some way. The difference between a leader and a change champion is that the change champion always works this way. Every. Single. Day. Even when no one is looking.

This is the best you can do.


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