Let's Not Make a Big Deal

I waited tables in high school. The person who trained me was excellent and offered numerous small tips I have found valuable in just about every professional role I have held ever since.

One of the gems he stressed has been on my mind lately. Hal insisted that servers should do nothing that would unnecessarily draw guests' attention to the work we were doing. One of the points he drilled into our heads is that even when the restaurant was busting at the seems and operating at full volume, we should never move too hurriedly or appear frantic in front of customers. Doing so would only cause them to be distracted by our state of being and to more likely become concerned about how busy it was and how that would affect their food and service.

It was wise advice and it worked miracles in lots of settings since I first heard it at the age of 16. Think of your own experiences in busy venues. When servers or sales reps treat us in an efficient yet unhurried manner, the pace and potential stress of the activity that surrounds us seems to melt away. In contrast recall a time when a frantic server spread his anxiety to your dining party so that you, too, felt rushed and harried. Not the ideal eating experience.

It's been on my mind lately because I'm involved in a few efforts with some different organizations whose leaders see the new projects they are taking on as being risky, challenging to their members, or fraught with potential pitfalls. All of which is probably true for all I know, but the more they talk about their efforts that way the more I sense them becoming concerned about risk and failure. What they are growing distant from is the excitement they have for these new ideas and they very real value they believe they can provide to their members.

The danger here is that letting their anxieties take too great a hold on them might cause them to overreact to some of the decisions they need to make or to spread their own anxiousness out into the membership, inflaming those who might already be viewing the new ventures with skepticism or cynicism.

It's one thing to be pragmatic and acknowledge that "whoa, we're taking on some pretty risky ideas here." It is another thing to make that a central part of the public conversation you have with your target audience or to constantly drop back to that thinking even among the leadership. Think about it initially, acknowledge the realities, plan for them, but for heaven's sake quit talking so much about it. Don't make it something that it might not be for a large number of the people who are approaching your new ideas with a neutral perspective.

In fact, the real act of leadership might be presenting a sea of normality to those who seem to be most challenged by the changes being pursued. The way we view the work in which we are engaged is very likely the way we will cause others to view our efforts.

Act as if something is a big deal and it most certainly will become one.