For the past several years, I’ve taught a graduate course on adult learning. In total, I’ve probably had over 50 master’s degree students take this class. And overwhelmingly, they have expressed enthusiasm and excitement as they’ve discovered the world of andragogy, the self-directed style that, I believe, underlies much of effective adult learning. In sharp contrast to the pedagogical world to which most had been exposed and inculcated throughout their lives, they react to these new ideas with full-blown exultations!
Fast forward 14 months, and I typically welcome back into my classroom for what will be their final journey en route to their master’s degree conferment. The three-course applied sequence is designed to immerse them in the research side of being an organizational development professional. It’s the scholar side of our scholar-practitioner model. And it’s intense! With oftentimes little to no prior research background, these talented students are hit with a lot of technical information. Research methodologies, language, and approaches fly at them for sixteen weeks. And by the third 8-week course, they are expected to take a completed research design, gain approval for their project from the institution’s Human Participants’ Research Board, and be off and running on their guided, yet independent applied research project.
And it’s during this research sequence that we begin seeing cracks in the andragogical armor. It’s then that this notion of self-directed learning is really put to the test, support for the learning approach openly questioned by the students’ themselves.
You see, not surprisingly, as long as one is learning within the framework of comfort, it’s easy to really like this notion of self-direction. Take an abrupt leap outside the paradigm, however, and one’s faith is tested!
As faculty, in those instances when self-doubt creeps into our graduate students’ psyches, we’re offered several choices. We can allow the students to fall back into their comfortable pedagogical cocoons, where our handholding and spoon feeding soothes their battered confidence. Or we can insist on sticking with the andragogical foundations, comforting and reassuring our students without providing the answers to their growing quandary.
If we choose the former, we smooth out the students’ path, remove the anxiety, and carry them over the finish line. And as natural “problem-solvers,” there’s not much more rewarding than knowing YOU were instrumental in getting someone to reach their goal. It’s a great ego-stroke.
But there is something that’s even more rewarding than that. You see, if we instead choose the latter, allowing our students to struggle, remaining on the sideline while they try and fail, pick themselves back off the ground and try again, we gain even greater reward. Now, we aren’t passive bystanders, however. No, we’re there alongside them, encouraging them, motivating them, and yes, challenging them. But at the end, it’s in finding the intestinal fortitude to figure things out for themselves and to will themselves across that finish line that will have a more indelible impact on their lives.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, right? The next time you’re challenged and finding yourself wanting desperately to fall back on the “easy way” back into your comfort zone, take some time to really think about what you’re giving up by doing so. Most times, sticking with the tougher road will be more rewarding in the end.
You know the feeling…you’ve burned the midnight oil, hit the deadlines, and received the kudos from all involved. You love what you do, nearly every aspect of it. You’ve found your ideal role in your ideal organization. You have arrived!!! When you’ve found that, you don’t mind the late nights and the extra efforts. You’re IN THE ZONE!
What? What do you mean, I must be talking to someone else? Surely you’re there…you love your job. In fact, it’s more than just a job, it’s a calling, right? Nope, that doesn’t sound right either? Well, what’s wrong, for Heaven’s sake?
Well, according to Gallup, only about 20% of us truly operate in that career nirvana. That’s one in five, people. Yikes! Just thinking about it saps one’s enthusiasm and optimism about the world around us, doesn’t it?
The truth is many organizations preach the “engagement sermon.” Far fewer match their actions to their words. Too often, I’ve heard leaders complain that despite everything they do to engage their workers, it’s just never enough. And quite honestly, they are right!
Yep, they’re right alright. It’s never enough…it truly is never enough OF THE RIGHT THINGS! Leaders are often quick to throw their hands in the air in frustration.
“But we gave them jeans days! We let them check their Facebook! We pay them more than our competitors!” Yes, you did, and guess what? It’s not enough.
You see, in most cases, leaders are focusing on finding ‘easy fixes,” policies, benefits, and programs that are more about short-term satisfaction than long-term engagement. Throw another benefit at them…host another Town Hall Meeting. That’ll do it…..NOT!
Whenever I hear a leader griping about all their engagement efforts going to naught, I ask them to “Tell me about the dreams, passions, and aspirations of your team.”
The response is usually, “Well, Bob’s really good at….blah, blah, blah.” Or “Sarah’s got great leadership potential…..blah, blah, blah.”
I don’t care. I really don’t, and I tell them that. You see, it makes no difference what Bob’s competency is at a particular tasks, nor Sarah’s potential. She could have the makings of the world’s most proficient boss, but if it’s not where she finds pure passion, it makes no difference at all. Bob’s the best data analyst you’ve ever seen? So what, if he really doesn’t get excited diving into the data!
Daniel Pink says that the key to motivation is purpose. But it’s not the purpose that you as a leader see or can convince others to embrace. It’s the purpose the individual finds for himself in the work he does. THAT is what breeds sustained engagement.
So, Step 1….you’ve got to KNOW your employees wants, and to what they dream and aspire. And Step 2, you’ve got to be willing to do everything in your power to get them to those dream positions (within your team or elsewhere). Until you do that, you’ll never have a team truly excited and passionate about working with you and your organization. You’ll forever be stuck in a necessary environment of mediocrity, because mediocre efforts are all people can sustain where true passion lacks.
How about at work? Any traditions that set this month aside from the rest? As the boss, how do you set the tone for the holidays?
Here are my own suggestions for making this a memorable and positive holiday season, regardless of how your employees may celebrate (or not):
- Resist the temptation for gift exchanges (white elephant or not)
- Encourage (authentically!) time off
- Insist that time off MEANS time off!
- Holiday bonus should be EQUAL, not performance or longevity-based
- Follow your own “rules”
- Thank everyone!
Gift Exchanges – Nothing ruins the holiday spirit better than office gift exchanges, in my opinion. Wonderfully intended, requiring (or even suggestion voluntary participation) in these exchanges inevitably alienates some employees. The reality is, many employees don’t know what to give, so gifts end up being either overly goofy or merely gestures. Now, I know the holidays are all about giving, but giving something you know it crap doesn’t make a person feel good. And in this day and age, it’s unusual for an office to not have at least one person who is already feeling the financial pinch of the holiday season. Compelling them to come up with one more (even token) gift is insensitive to anyone’s potential personal situation. Better to simply avoid this one altogether.
Time Off – For most people, the holidays (regardless of religion or creed) mean family time. And there’s nothing worse than feeling guilty taking time off to try and spend time with ever geographically distant relatives. So, as the boss, you should do everything in your power to ensure people can and do take time off. I’ll go a step further…even if it means working yourself during this time, so that others can take time off, DO IT! Nothing says “servant leader” better (and plays into the holiday spirit more) than volunteering to work, even at tasks below your pay grade. Your success and your “importance” is due entirely to your people. Pay them back by making sure to the best of your ability, they can take the time away from work that they deserve.
Unplugged Time – Insist that when people are off, they are truly off. Be explicit about this! No emails. No smartphones. No contact with the office. If you have anyone who you can’t afford to be truly “unplugged” for a week or so, you’ve got a bigger leadership and management issue.
Holiday Bonuses – Too often holiday bonuses based on longevity or performance do little more than divide a workplace at just the time when you COULD be rallying everyone around the team dynamic of your work. If you feel strongly about bonuses at this time of year (and I personally think they are great!), make sure everyone receives the same bonus (sales, ops, support, executives, and custodial staff).
Do It YOURSELF! – If the rules are good enough for your employees, you’ve got to make sure they are good enough for yourself. You also need to take time off (even if it’s before or after the holiday to ensure coverage so employees can take time). You need to unplug. You need to accept no more of a bonus than your most junior employee. Model the type of servant leader you are…no better than the least of your followers.
Give Thanks – Nothing is more important than authentically letting your people know exactly how lucky you are to have them on your team, how much their efforts mean NOT ONLY TO THE TEAM and the organization, but TO YOU personally.
Do these six things, and you’ll find yourself emerging from this holiday season with a more dedicated, loyal, appreciative, and engaged workforce. And with that, you’re off to the best start you can imagine for the New Year!