A few times a week I get Supervisors coming into my office to discuss leadership. Specifically, interaction between them and their students.
For those of you that don’t know, in addition to mindset coaching and massage therapy, I am the Director of Clinical Services at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York City. We are one of the biggest acupuncture, herbs, and massage schools in the country and the clinic I (allegedly) run has over 30,000 patient visits a year. The clinic experience is a HUGE part of the education and licensing process and we have about 46 contracted Supervisors to train and educate our interns.
Lots of people = lots of interaction. This isn’t a bad thing.
Some of them, though they have extensive experience in their fields, do not have so much experience in leadership, and this job requires a lot of educating, and compromise, and patience, and mindfulness. It isn’t easy. Leadership is like that: if it was easy everyone would be doing it.
So they approach me for advice. Which is terrifying. Because, well, look at me.
Okay, listen…all self-deprecation aside, I DO have a ton of eclectic experience in oddball leadership and management situations. Part of this has to do with making rank extremely fast in the US Navy and being a clueless 27 year old Chief Petty Officer. Also, being in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place, depending on point of view). To say I have been around the block is an understatement. I’ve worn a fucking groove in the sidewalk and I’m not even 40 yet.
Recently one of the Supervisors came to me to discuss a conversation with a student. Simply put, he didn’t feel confident with the way he handled it and the way he chose to respond. This wasn’t even a big deal or a “life or death” moment, but rather a small teachable moment that he felt he didn’t fully capitalize on.
More on that later…
One of the things I love about leadership is that you won’t ever really figure people out 100%. During my military career, I found myself bored with the technical side of my job (aviation ordnance), but I never found myself lacking a sense of wonder when pondering people. You can reach a point of mastery in certain technical disciplines…if you think you are going to find a formula for people, think again.
This is why I tease my hardcore behaviorist friends, and also why I gave up trying to create a “cookie cutter” program to develop mental toughness in athletes and executives. Looking at people (or rats) and analyzing data sets within the confines of an experiment is cool, and necessary, but trying to account for ALL of the variables that individuals encounter in daily living is an exercise in futility. The interaction you have with a person on a Monday could be completely different than the same interaction on Tuesday, and trying to figure out why can be a nightmare…or really fun depending on your point of view.
There are no shortcuts in dealing with people. There is no secret sauce formula. You can’t condense it into an eBook. Trust me, I have tried.
Interaction, really, is life. Yeah, I know this sounds ridiculous, but our day-to-day patterns are just layers of interaction. Some with objects, some with others. Humans, by nature, aren’t solitary beings, so it comes with the territory. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, in his wonderful “Most Astounding Fact” quote, mentions that what we want is “connectivity”. Interaction, particularly with other people, is a massive part of feeling connected.
Feeling like you are a part of something.
For those of you privy to my motivation theory musings, specifically Self-Determination Theory, you KNOW how important relatedness is. You need to be connected to something who’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Going back to the Supervisor…
My answer to him: “I don’t know if you handled it 100% correctly either. The important thing is to look at the situation, assess the outcome, and figure out what can be learned from this.”
Truly, I have enough experience to look back and make informed decisions, and I have enough formal training in Sport Psychology to be mindful of my linguistics and body language when dealing with people, but I also realize that there are always differing points of view and there are always other angles with which to look at a situation. Many of these we overlook. Not out of negligence, but simply because we are moving at the speed of life.
There are no replays of “coaches’ challenges” here.
This is not a contained arena.
Nothing is black and white.
That Grey Area.
Much like motor learning, this is a course correction provided by *gasp* failure. A child learns to walk through failure. Constant adjustment, starting from lying there on the ground, to earn stability and mobility and, ultimately, the privilege of locomotion.
The same is true for leadership interaction, and much like learning a motor skill, this isn’t always a matter of book knowledge. An infant doesn’t say: “Hmmm, I’m getting close to a year old, I had better get in the books”.
The child just does.
And that’s what we do, sometimes as leaders. Which might be the single biggest reason I preach that people need to reframe their beliefs and attitudes concerning the nature of “failure”. If you are dealing with people, you are going to make bad calls. You are going to make mistakes. But the most critical aspect of the interaction is that you ARE are making decisions, because, right or wrong, those decisions provide course correction for future decisions, allowing you to implement controls and mitigate potential disasters in difficult times because you have learned from previous interactions!
So get out there and lead and realize that none of us have all the answers, but, rather, a breadth of experience from getting out there, rolling our sleeves up, and riding the roller coaster of life.
Perfection? Please. If I’m completely right 35% of the time I’d be more than happy. Tony Gwynn had a batting average around .350 and, well, San Diego has statues of him and the world remembers him as one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Think about it.