Her name is Nuisance. She just turned up one day at our window, a little black cat with bowlegs and signs of the stress that spending too long outside alone can bring.
When I first caught sight of her through the window, I thought she must belong to someone but as the days went by and she spent even the rainy ones sleeping on the gravel under the eaves of our condo, I realized she was a lost little soul who needed some help. Even the “found cat” note I posted went unanswered
So I began to feed her.
Some nodded knowingly when I admitted to doing that. “You’re stuck with her now”, they suggested.
“She’ll keep coming back and then what will you do?”
To be honest, I didn’t really know. My experience with cats had been limited to a time when I was eleven years old and that was, well okay, about a century ago.
But she kept coming back and I kept feeding her.
And then I began to feel responsible for her. She was all right outside in the summer sun and warmth but winter was coming. What then?
So, after several failed attempts to coax her inside, one day she simply jumped in the open window and claimed me as her guardian.
We have been quite happily learning about each other ever since.
So what has this got to do with leadership or people? You may well ask. It may be a bit too much of a stretch but perhaps there are some parallels worth exploring. Let’s give it a try anyway.
When I think about it, Nuisance has reminded me that:
Engagement is a two-way street ~ We can talk all we like about employee engagement but my experience with Nuisance suggests that no manner of coaxing or demanding can make others respond well, if what you want is not what they want. Also, had I grabbed for Nuisance and pulled her inside the window without her permission, I would have destroyed any trust she was beginning to place in me. And, I would have been left, if not broken, certainly bloodied from the experience.
Engagement, after all, is not about leaders turning themselves inside out to get peoples’ attention, blinding them with science or forcing them to pay attention. It is more about leader and follower doing a dance of sorts, one that includes conversation, inquiry and patience. And it’s about each taking responsibility for their part in the connection, taking some steps forward together to serve a mutually beneficial purpose.
Effective communication involves all of the senses ~ It’s taking a while for me to anticipate her wants and needs, but Nuisance and I are learning to read each other. We don’t speak the same language of course but she is trying hard, through her actions, to let me know what works for her and what doesn’t. I’m doing my best to convey my own wants and expectations. It’s a mutual effort borne out of respect for each other.
In most workplaces, we have the advantage of speaking a common language. That should make communication much easier. In some ways though, common language is not necessarily an advantage. It can make us lazy and less willing to go beyond what is being said to understand more deeply what is not being said and the real feeling or need that comes from that.
Consistency & Continuity are important ~ Nuisance is a typical cat. She likes to eat, sleep, prowl and play at a certain time in the day. She does not like me to interfere with her regular routine. It upsets her and makes her feel unsafe. Many people are like this too.
Change in workplaces though, is an ongoing, relentless thing. And, often, it is necessary. However, along with change must also come a large measure of consistency in leadership. That means, showing up and conveying a constant message about the future. And it means providing the opportunity to take a little of what is already working into that future. In short, consistency and continuity are two things that bring a measure of reassurance and allow people, (and cats) to be open to, and eventually embrace, change.
Love rules ~ Whether we are talking about animals or people, no matter how conscientious or skilled we are, our progress will always be impeded if we fail to care. Love makes the work worth the effort. And, it is a powerful motivator.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?