The guy occupying the window seat next to our middle / aisle needed help. We spent pretty much the entire flight – earlier this summer – talking with him about how to more effectively manage his geographically dispersed team of direct reports.
As you likely know from personal experience, some people just aren’t cut out to manage people. Too often, people get promoted to a leadership position simply because they are strong individual contributors. But that’s a different post.
Anyhow, it happens all of the time. Since we’re in the Life / Career Maximization business, strangers regularly want to pick our brains. Truthfully, we love it. That’s what happens when you figure yourself out and do what you’re supposed to be doing in life. The blissful hum of being in sync with life blurs the line between work and, well, not work. This, too, is really another blog post.
Back to that flight.
Something really interesting came to the surface when discussing this guy’s work problems. It wasn’t just the usual “how do I make my workgroup more of a cohesive team” sort of stuff. Here’s a rough outline of part of conversation:
Kent: Your level of frustration over your work group tells me there’s more going on.
Guy: I know this sounds horrible, but I’m irritated because it’s a group of smart people.
Caanan: What does that mean?
Guy: Honestly, I shouldn’t have to fly around the country babying these people. I mean, all of them have a graduate degree, all of them manage their own teams, one speaks five languages and one just finished an ultra-marathon.
Kent: So, by all appearances, you think everything should be great.
Guy: Yes, but 80% of them are off their game. I feel like a Psychologist.
Caanan: We know the feeling.
Of course, nothing – including this conversation – surprises us. People are complex, and the stuff going on on the inside of all of us is far more complicated than anyone can imagine from seeing only the surface. The a-ha that emerged from this conversation was just that. As individuals, we can tend to eschew thinking holistically when it comes to ourselves and other people. We make leaps and often focus on the obvious and the external and not the internal. As in, “He’s thin, he must be healthy.”
As it relates to the situation on the plane… someone who is fit enough to finish an ultra-marathon can be just as unwell as anyone else.
True wellness isn’t solely about being, for example, educated or fit or healthy. While wellness is certainly about things like taking care of yourself physically, it’s also about so much more. To be truly well, we all have to explore the entire picture of our lives. And we owe it to others – in the workplace and in life – to honor the fact that we’re all multi-faceted with all sorts of beautiful and clunky stuff going on.
The guy on the plane likes to think that he hired a Harvard graduate. He also hired a real person with real problems. Now, it shouldn’t interfere with this person’s job performance, but many managers refuse to acknowledge that employees aren’t robots. By bringing his indestructible, superhuman energy to the workplace (and having the same expectation of others), he was making matters worse.
The funny thing is, the more you validate someone’s complete humanity, the better they’ll do at work and life. Of course, the same holds true for how we should each view ourselves.
Stick around for more. This month’s theme is Wellness. We’re going to be approaching it from both obvious and not so obvious angles.
UPDATE: See this post for a personal example that expands on the topic of wellness in work and life.