Imperfect Together

“Do you love it, Mom? I picked it just for you!”

Our proud grade schooler just couldn’t wait to give us our gifts from the Penguin Sale that day. She was beaming with joy! Was that today? Her big chance to shop independently for gifts? She had been looking forward to it for a long time, we received several notices from school, and yet I had forgotten all about it. She hadn’t brought any money with her today.

When I was a kid, we used a pair of nail trimmers that had a guitar on them. I had chosen that gift for my father from just such a sale. Every time we used those little trimmers I was reminded that I had chosen such a useful gift. Every time I mentioned the trimmers he would thank me for the gift, as if I had just given it to him. Every time he spoke of them I warmed with pride. How could I have forgotten the guitar trimmer sale?!

Hopeful eyes were watching me. “Do you love it, Mom?” Tears of frustration and failure streamed down my face. All of the late December magic making, ice storm driving, gingerbread shopping, and assorted darknesses of the Season of Lights caught up with me.  As our daughter explained that since we both drank coffee every day, she thought they were great gifts. “I chose them for you from the table for kids who didn’t have any money today,” she beamed a bit more and I continued to weep. SuperDad had an unusual look on his face, too. Gratitude for our school staff, teachers, and volunteers poured from me. Our little village had my back. No one on our house had remembered the Sale, yet this was understood. No one else expected my perfection.

In fact, the organizers of the sale had anticipated this issue. They had a goal or two in mind and weren’t going to let the variability of parents, homelife, or household finances get in the way of achieving those goals. A process had been created, it had been shared with everyone, and it was simple enough to make use of ready volunteers. These leaders executed their plan and succeeded.

My pride kept me from enjoying this mug for quite awhile. I secretly hoped it would disappear and with it, my guilt and self-doubt. But she comments on our mugs every time we use them. Every time she asks me if I still like the mug she chose for me. Every time I thank her for the gift, as if she had just given it to me. Every time she puffs up a bit and calls me her SuperMom.

Lately, my caffeinated courage has tasted especially good in the morning. Days are challenging in so many new kinds of ways. Life will not be “normal” anytime soon. Let’s take it easy on ourselves; let’s be generous and fully present. Let’s set goals, address issues, and execute our plans to move forward together. I will look for the light and thank our super heroes. And I will use this mug.

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Clear is Kind

More than ever, this is a time to be kind. What does that mean in our work lives?

So often, we shy away from the hard conversations. We lose the opportunity for genuine connection because we are trying to be polite or gentle, or just because we’re tired.

Brenee Brown, helps us here, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” In her latest book, Dare to Lead, Dr. Brown states, “Not getting clear with your colleagues about expectations because it feels too hard, or blaming them for not delivering is unkind. Talking about people rather than to them is unkind.”

Are you ready for a snow day? What about a no-show policy refresher?

Clear plans to deal with weather can be made in advance. Clear expectations can be talked through at routine staff meetings. It means a lot when a supervisor opens the conversation, asking how many people would prefer to use a vacation day tomorrow? Reserve the right to approve the definition of “skeleton crew”, but by opening the conversation, you acknowledge the emotions and allow for true ownership.

Are your professional goals clear for the next month? Have you given your team members the gift of clarity?

Are there sales quotas or other goals to be met by year end? If you aren’t going to meet budget, what is an acceptable level of performance? We have all been in that 11th hour, knowing with equal certainty that we will not succeed and that we have worked really hard all year and have overcome many obstacles. How about a leader who shares in the disappointment, but clarifies what is realistically expected in the next few weeks? A leader who has already had the conversations about why the team will miss the mark and has supported structural or personnel changes to support future efforts? The 11th hour (or month) provides the opportunity for true connection, for engagement, and for growth.

Let’s be clear, be kind, and leave a little room for the magic of the season!