Nina Spencer

December: A Time for Leadership in Action

On the brilliant, unseasonably warm early afternoon of November 21st, 2003, I found myself travelling 5 hours homeward-bound along Ontario's Highway 401 from a speaking engagement near the Ontario-Quebec border. Since that weekday marked my father's 75th birthday, and since his chosen rural retirement community was located in that part of Eastern Ontario, I decided to surprise him with a birthday visit. He hadn't expected me until the following weekend, but I just couldn't resist the serendipity of it all...and a beautiful afternoon to enjoy together, to boot!

Well, surprise him I did! We had a fabulous afternoon...went for a long country drive along golden rural roads, stopped for a proper English country Tea and even squeezed in a visit to a chocolate factory! Who could ask for more? As the sun sank too early below the Standard-Time horizon, the day and our time together quickly came to a close. So as to not be driving on dark roads alone for too long a time, I left by the dinner hour, promising to return at Christmastime. That never happened.

Two weeks later, my otherwise robust, sturdy and healthy father took mysteriously unwell and was transferred to three progressively larger hospitals over 10 days before receiving the diagnosis of stroke. Although he was given the encouragement of full recovery he died in hospital on December 21, 2003--one month to the day after our spontaneous afternoon together--and not from a stroke, after all, but rather, a virus that entered his spine, called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. I hadn't travelled the four hours back to visit him in hospital between December 6th and the 21st, due to my own illness (a nasty flu, and besides, my dad was getting better and we'd see him during Christmas week, or so I thought). A decision I'll always regret.

December is a terrific time for taking action. Learning from my own regret, what might you regret doing or not doing this season if you defer once again? Who are some of the people with whom you'd like to reconnect, either in the workplace or elsewhere? What are some of the workplace tasks you'd like to complete, to be able to reach year's end with a sense of peace and satisfaction? What happiness can you bring to your December days, as well as to the experience of others, both colleagues and clients or customers, alike?

These days at work, before the Christmas break, can be taxing or terrific, depending on the seasonal demands of your job and within your organization. For some, this is the slow season; for others, it's panic time extraordinaire. Regardless, it is that time of year, yet again.

So declare December a time for leadership--personal or professional--in action; apply these 10 strategies to deliver you (and your team) to a happy and peaceful year's end:

1. Under promise and over deliver: There's often a psychological hurdle to "get this and that out of the way" before the 24th. Cut yourself some slack (to keep your sanity and some semblance of good cheer) by, as much as possible and reasonable, "under promising and over delivering". It's amazing how this approach elevates one's credibility and reputation. If you think you can get it done in one day, say two, to be sure, and then do your best to deliver it in one.

2. Nurture a couple of special workplace friendships: You spend more time at work than at home, so it seems. Isn't it nice to have at least one "safe" person at work with whom to speak...about the good, the bad and the down right workplace "ugly"? One who really understands your workplace's ups and downs? Who are your "safe" colleagues? We all need at least one. Take a moment to stop by and say "thanks."

3. Reserve judgment of another: Just because you, "heard it through the grapevine" doesn't make it necessarily so. Check things out for yourself. Stick up for that absent person when the office rumour mill starts grinding. Declare your ears a "no rumour/no gossip zone" for the remaining days of December (and, if this starts to feel good to you, perhaps you may choose to extend this declaration into the new year!).

4. Share your thoughts of admiration with that person you admire: Make a list of colleagues whose work and style you've always admired, and then tell them so. And tell them why. Make these December days your "mushy" excuse for sharing what's in your heart, and rarely said during the other 11 months of the year.

5. Patch things up: What office relationship, between you and another, is mildly or seriously fractured? After all this time, does it matter who was at fault? Use the excuse of this season to do what you can to mend your fences. "The Wood Stove" story illustrates this suggestion nicely: a man goes for a late afternoon walk in the winter woods. Without warning, a furious snowstorm sets in. The man has travelled too far in one direction and couldn't possibly return home safely that day. Luckily, he found shelter in an abandoned cabin. Upon his arrival, he was thrilled to discover a pile of chopped wood next to a wood stove. What incredible good fortune! He scooped up a few logs, stood before the wood stove and demanded, "Stove, give me heat and I'll give you wood". The stove scoffed, "Forget it! First you give me wood, then I'll give you heat!" And what happened to both for the rest of the night? They froze! If things are ever going to be patched up between you and another, someone needs to be the first to warm things up. Let it be you.

6. If you can't be in the job you'd love, honey, love the job you're in (to modify, slightly, an old 1970 song by Stephen Stills, "(If You Can't Be With the One You Love, Honey) Love the One You're With": Act as if you have the best job in the whole world, and love coming to work each and every day. Make sure that it shows to staff, colleagues and clients, alike. If you already really do feel this way, this suggestion is easy for you. If not, adopt the old, "fake it 'til you make it" philosophy. Over time, perhaps you actually will deliver yourself to this self-fulfilling prophecy. Remember, the Zen philosophy espouses, "What you think about expands".

7. Set two new professional development goals for 2013: Decide now, on two professional development goals for the New Year. Seriously contemplate your career path. If you want professional growth, start looking within your own organization, first, as you've invested a lot of time in them and they in you. What secondments can you pursue in your own branch or division? another branch or division? For what workplace projects can you volunteer or contribute? What newly created position can you propose for yourself?

8. Train your brain to engage three seconds faster than your mouth: Do your part to increase peace on your team, and with your clients and customers by (metaphorically) biting your tongue over petty disagreements. Before you "go there" with a nasty retort or sarcastic comment, ask yourself, "Is this a preference or a value?" Conserve your energy to fight for your values. Let go of at least some of your preferences this season...for extra peace all around. This strategy will save much of your daily energy for things that really matter to you, and increase team harmony, too!

If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape one hundred days of sorrow. -- Chinese Proverb

9. Accept a little more: Are you an unaccepting or intolerant? Is it always, "My way or the highway", with you? Even if you don't think so, might others believe this of your communication style? Be honest with yourself. Don't judge colleagues or staff (or even old clients, for that matter), today, by what you knew about them, back then. People do sometimes change and evolve, don't they? You have, over the years, haven't you? Think back to the way you were in the workplace ten or twelve years ago. Have you developed greater wisdom from your years of experience? Does that wisdom show up in how you now deal with your day-to-day professional relationships and challenges? Probably. And so it is with others, perhaps, too.

10. Consciously smile when picking up the phone: For the balance of December, warm things up with your smiling phone greeting. Change both your live and recorded telephone greeting words/script for the balance of this month. Callers will hear the smile in your voice, and it will get each and every one of your connections off to a warmer start. If you're doing it right, in most cases you will notice a responsive difference. People do notice and often, then--either consciously or unconsciously--respond in kind.

And speaking of your voice on the phone, if you are fortunate to still have both a mum and a dad with you--or even only one of your beloved parents--consider how the sound of your voice would lift their days. It would, even if they didn't say so in so many words. I really don't think any parent would complain if their busy, adult professional child gave a quickie call everyday. Do you? Call home. Pick up the phone and say, "Hi", even if there's not much to say and you're only on the line for 5 minutes...every day. I know I would now, if I could.

December is a wonderful time for taking action, having no regrets, and making peace with yourself and others. Enjoy your workdays, come what may; it's all good. Belly-laugh...a lot. We all can use it. And at least call home if you can't get there.

Whether at this time of year you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, or merely the Winter Solstice and a few extra days off, choose to deck your workplace halls and hearts with light and jolly.

Sending you my heart-felt, warmest wishes through this festive season.

And thank-you for your continued kind and positive feedback regarding my:

  • Working Wisdom Newsletter
  • Getting Passion Out of Your Profession-Keynotes AND the Book
  • Lessons Learned for Work & Life from Climbing Kilimanjaro-Keynotes
  • and 2012 conference keynote and PD workshop presentations

It's certainly been my pleasure and honour to be of service to you again in 2012 and I look forward to more connections in 2013 and beyond!

Until we meet again, be happy and well, and safe travels, too!

Nina