I spent a large part of my 20’s in the military on board a naval vessel. My sense of wonder had never been more elevated than when I saw the massive destroyer ship for the first time. Its dull gray hull paint masked the magnificence of machinery that made it cut through the seas of the world, whether calm or choppy.
Different Parts, One Purpose
Fast forward into the present, I did a search on what was the most important part of a sea vessel. Some mentioned the batteries that provide propulsion, others the navigational instruments that supplied steering, and quite a number mentioned the hull structure that gave the ship its buoyancy. Needless to say, I concluded that no part of the boat is more important than the other because they all work in concert to make the ship fulfill its purpose. I also realized that without people, a boat has no life, direction, or destination. It simply stays parked in the harbor and its stagnancy becomes its eventual demise.
What is Your Boat?
Whether a marriage, family, community, church, business, or organization, hereafter called boats, we the people give definition and fulfill the purpose that these boats are in place for. These boats, no matter how beautifully designed, effectively equipped, or adequately funded, will lack what’s needed to perform at their best without people; people who are focused on working together in harmony to make them better. How do we make our boats better?
This is a key ingredient to fostering close knit relationships in whatever boats we find ourselves in. A culture of transparency grows and we make our boats better by being more approachable. People become free to contribute, and feel safe enough to bring their struggles, fears, concerns, complaints, doubts, and ideas where an environment of approachability is created. In its absence, people hide and mask who they really are by pretending to be who they are told they have to be in order to survive. But we cannot grow when we are pretending to be who and what we are not. In a survival environment there is no trust but fear that you are next on the chopping board. How can you become more approachable and make your boat better? One, smile genuinely. A smile is a basic yet one of the most effective ways to communicate a warm, inviting gesture to another person. It is the initial investment of positive body language towards someone else. A genuine smile says, “You are safe here.” “You are appreciated.” You are valuable.” Second, speak holistically: Our words often convey our thoughts. We cannot talk better to people that we consistently think negatively about. Words are powerful. They set in motion paths to various destinations. Words have a great effect in shaping who we are becoming as people. Our words attract or repel depending on the content, delivery, and audience. Think of your words as your mental currency and your thoughts as the bank account. Your thought life is responsible for your verbal efficiency and effectiveness. Positive words in negative situations increase your approachability quotient (A.Q.). Third is sensitive listening. How you listen ultimately determines what you hear. To be more sensitive requires that you be more attentive. Approachability is a skill best practiced daily and is most useful in tense situations. When people know that you are approachable, they will see you as dependable especially in times of crisis. The distance between you and the person or people you relate with personally or professionally significantly shrinks as you grow in approachability.
We can agree that approachability is impossible without availability. Your visibility has a direct effect on your approachability. Unfortunately, we live in world where there is greater accessibility through technology but lesser visibility because we hide behind our screens; maintain a safe distance through text messages, and social media posts. I am guilty of this. I am learning that availability has more to do with how much of ourselves we invest in the boats we are in. We cannot make a difference in places where we are not present. In thriving organizations, there is a concept called Managing By Walking Around. This means that those who lead remain engaged and close enough to relate with those they lead. Their position or title doesn’t create a barrier but a bridge to enhance connectivity. It takes intentionality to be available. I have a friend who recently reminded me that part of being a top performer is consistently showing up. In whatever boat you are in, ask these questions, “Am I as available now as I was a month ago?” “What has reduced my availability and why?” “At this time and in this boat, how can I improve my availability?” Consider this simple troika to increase availability:
- Develop a 360 degree view of your boat.
- Decide to show up more in face to face gatherings in your boat
- Give undivided attention to those who are in your boat.
“A” game in an “F” environment
There have been plenty of good players in different sports who have found themselves on bad teams. A bad team or boat for that matter can either bring out your best or worst. We get to choose what we will bring each day to our boats. It’s simpler to go with the flow or just allow yourself to behave in step with the “F” environment you are in. Or, you can choose to elevate and better the boat by bringing your “A” game and influence the environment in a positive way. Of course, it will be an uphill battle and you may have more bad days than good, but that is the burden a change agent must be willing to carry to cause a difference in the environment. We can only overcome bad by being and doing good. Light is the answer for darkness, excellence is the answer to laxity, faith is the answer to fear, reconciliation is the answer to retaliation, and taking responsibility is the answer to shifting blame. When we allow bad environments to dictate the terms of how we behave, then we have further degenerated our boat and contributed to its sinking. Bringing your “A” game in an “F” environment begins with remembering who you are and what your mission is. Companies that endured the recent economic depression and thrived did so because they were committed to who they were. They didn’t compromise quality for quantity but stayed true to their identity and mission. In so doing they maintained a loyal customer following. One word that carries plenty of weight when it comes to always bringing your “A” game is affirmation. I define an affirmation as a set of declarations or statements that you tell yourself consistently. Affirmation is the water to your mental garden to foster the growth of a positive thought life. What are you constantly telling yourself? Here is a compressed version of affirmations that I make to myself daily:
- I am a child of God, made in His image and likeness, with a purpose and destiny.
- I use what I have been given to build others up and not tear them down.
- I bring my best every day and nothing less.
- I love, lead, and serve my family through my words and example.
Final thought: Take an inventory of the “boats” that you are daily in. Next, conduct an inspection, not on the others in your boat, but on yourself. Are you approachable, available, and bringing your best no matter the current situation to make the “boat” better? Your quality of life is never dependent on what other people do but on whether you can be the best version of yourself at all times and make your boat(s) better.
Challenge Corner: What are you telling yourself daily? Do you have any declarations? If so please share a few of them in the comments section. I would love to hear them and cheer you on!
Keep on Keeping on!