As September nears, we hear around every water cooler and coffee pot that seemingly rhetorical question, “Where did the summer go?”
In spring, we never hear folks ask, “Where did the winter go?”
What is it that prompts us to ask about summer? Is it the onset of autumn? Is it that some of us, even in middle age, still get that gut feeling that it’s time to go back to school?
Or is it something about summer that is full of promise, and when it’s over we wistfully look back at how we may not have harvested every promise the season holds?
As leaders, wouldn’t it be a cool indicator if, at the end of a campaign or a project, we heard our folks chatting around the cooler wondering, “Where did the campaign go?”
That would be music to our ears. It would indicate that our campaign or project, for all of its hot deadlines and muggy meetings, was something that we saw great potential in and strove to accomplish. It would indicate that there were enough moments of splashing in the pool of camaraderie and enjoyment of icy beverages on the deck of working together that, overall, folks saw the work, even if it required evenings or weekends, as, well, enjoyable.
As leaders, let’s take a lesson from the “Where did the summer go” question. Face it, summer has its own trials and tribulations. Roads are under construction, beach traffic is horrible, air-conditioning bills make our hair stand on end, and all that grass cutting and weeding. But is that what makes the summer fly by? It’s the idea that summer is a time to re-create ourselves, to recreate. It’s a time when we vacate the routine and go on vacation. It’s that time when we can stroll outside in bare feet and plop ourselves in a lawn chair, perhaps at a concert in Long’s Park.
Are we as leaders building this summer rhythm into our schedule of projects and campaigns and even our normal work routine? Some of us may be saying, “Of course not. That’s why we provide paid vacation.”
Well said, but not well played. Let’s face it. Some of us run our offices as if we need to always hunker down, dreading the next snowstorm of customer complaints or troublesome suppliers. Some of us are wondering why people aren’t excited about our colorful project plan, when all we talk about is raking up leaves.
Every enterprise is looking to have engaged employees. To that end, as leaders, we should be looking for ways to schedule our projects, plan our campaigns, structure our ‘routines’ so that our employees are not experiencing one long, cold, dreary winter. How do we do this? Is it really about just having more office parties and casual dress days? Not really.
As leaders, we must find ways that will help each person stay connected with the potential of the project. We need to set sights beyond all that grass cutting so that our team can see the hanging out in the hammock. We must find ways that will help each person create value. We need to assign roles and responsibilities, so our team realizes that we are all going to the pool, and that some of us won’t have to just settle for a picture of a pool to cool off. We must find ways to help each person contribute to the mission and aspire to the vision, just like we go on a vacation the whole family can enjoy, not just one family member (although, on some rainy camping vacations, family members start wondering whose idea of fun it was).
In other words, as leaders, we are looking at enabling people to sustainably engage in their work. The noble calling we have as leaders is, in the words of the late Dr. W. Edwards Deming, to enable everyone to have joy in work. This doesn’t mean there won’t be droughts of new ideas or insect-riddled management reports. It means that, when it’s all said and done, the focus will be on the pursuit of the potential of the campaign, not just on all the problems we faced. It means, when it’s over, folks will be looking back wishing they could have done even more, asking themselves, “Where did the campaign go?”
So, let that rhetorical question, “Where did the summer go” be a way for us to check ourselves on how well we’re answering our noble leadership calling.
Meanwhile, thanks to crazy climate changes, even though it may fall on the calendar, we still have plenty of hot days left for another barbeque or some floating on the Susquehanna. Hopefully, you’ll be asking “Where’d autumn go?” and not “Do I really have to cut the grass for Thanksgiving?”
Paul Armstrong is founder and partner of eNthusaProve LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster County.