Tag Archives: rules

Digging in the Trenches

Since early spring, I’ve been staring at what were at one time the well-defined edges of my garden beds in frustration and dismay. Heavy spring rains washed gravel, dirt, and mulch into and through any pathway that gravity dictated. Until last weekend, those edges were only hints . . . no, shadows of lines separating grass from garden.

The early autumn temperatures got me outside last weekend with one of my favorite tools, a trench edger, to attack the bed directly outside my office window.

When this garden bed is in its full-bloom glory, it’s a wonderful, peaceful backdrop for a busy work day. But at this time of the year, the hydrangeas sag with the weight of drying flowered heads, and the hostas are ready for their annual shearing.

So, on Saturday while digging my border, I couldn’t help thinking about boundaries, and the trenches, fences, and gates that we create to keep things out, keep ourselves in, and keep the two from meeting.

In my leadership style, I think I mirror my gardening efforts. I like well-defined boundaries so that those on my team understand and feel empowered in their roles, but not constrained by a rigidity that prevents them from being creative and productive. Like the pseudo-trench around my garden bed prior to last Saturday, you would have been able to tell that there is a “line,” but perhaps not the crisp one that some might prefer.

My way of defining borders (garden or otherwise) may not be for you. You may prefer well-chiseled edges. And I must admit — there is a cost to my approach (as there is with most.) Sometimes chaos does reign.

Take my children’s choir, for example. While some might prefer that there is attentive quiet at all times except when they are singing, I’m fine with a low rumble. But we have a verbal cue that let’s them know that it’s time to be quiet and sing. It works for them. It works for me.

Autumn is a good time to reassess the boundaries that you have drawn in your work, ministry, and life. What is working for you? What isn’t? How can you strengthen the boundaries that are effective? How can you reduce the chaos in the ones that aren’t?

 

The Rules: Important Words

fenceOne of the most stressful parts of a new job for me has always been learning the “rules” of how the office works, how people interact, what is expected of me, and what I should expect of others.

One boss I had did our entire staff the great favor of inviting a consultant in, and teaching us a set of rules to work by. They weren’t magic words, but when adhered to, they eliminated some potential landmines, reduced tensions, and made it possible to work through conflicts.

This post is one of a series of posts featuring each rule.

Rule #1: Agree on what important words mean.

A word like “rules.” Is a rule only in writing or can they be “unwritten”? I once worked in an office where the unwritten rule was to never question when the supervisor arrived at work even though it was often hours after everyone else.

An important tool in discovering what the important words are is to listen carefully to how colleagues phrase questions and even what they complain about.

A friend and colleague taught me a lot about the first. I had pulled together the text for a resource, and had gotten to the point where I was no longer a good judge of how good or bad it was or what was highlighted well and what was missing. So, I asked, “Can you give me some feedback on this now?” as I extended a printed copy to her.

Her response was fabulous! “Do you want whatever I can tell you now or do you want my best response?” She taught me about how important it is to be specific, especially in my questions.

Same office, different colleague on complaints. “It isn’t perfect.” Surely something we have all heard ourselves say as some point in time. At that point in time, striving for perfection was slowly killing us, partly because we all had slightly different definitions of. Me? I’m good with anywhere between 95-98% perfect. Not so my colleagues.

After a brief discussion, we arrived at a new and common definition of “perfection.” We decided that we were striving for excellence, not perfection, and recognized what some of the boundaries are around achieving excellence.

So, what key words are essential in the culture of your office? What do you think they mean? What else could they mean?