It’s no exaggeration to say that the last couple of years have been extraordinary.
We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. In the U.S., we have seen civil unrest and a highly charged political environment. When we look at the news, we seem to be constantly fed the brokenness of the world.
Those are very big things in our collective lives, but they can also be shadows around us as we deal with the immediate, very personal things in our lives.
And because our day to day tends to be so hectic, it’s easy to feel frustrated and hopeless. Especially if we have a job where we feel no one cares, where we do not feel valued for who we are and fulfilled in the work we do. Sometimes, it’s easy to feel frustrated even when we do have a job doing work we love with people we care about.
As I’ve written before, I regularly hold listening sessions with our people throughout Barry-Wehmiller’s various companies. During the pandemic, these listening sessions became virtual and we’ve kept scheduling them in this way. It’s a way for me to hear from a cross-section of our people from around the world in one sitting.
There have been many powerful moments in these listening sessions. We try to keep the number of teammates small to have a more comfortable, robust discussion. We always ask two questions: What are we doing well? What can we do better?
In my last listening session of 2021, I spoke with team members of our Accraply company – which manufactures labeling equipment – from their various global locations.
One team member from Accraply’s Canadian location, Dianna Brown, spoke up during the section on what we are doing well.
Dianna started at the reception desk in 2001. Over the years, she’s done many things, including working with Accraply’s aftermarket sales, purchasing, and accounts receivable. She is now primarily responsible for all the accounts payable functions, all the freight arrangements and customs paperwork for Accraply’s machine shipments and customs compliance for international shipments.
“After being here 20 years, I’m feeling pretty jaded,” she said. “Sometimes things aren’t working and then I come in here to this listening session… I’m reminded of why we are here and what we are trying to accomplish and that what I say matters. And it’s given me a fresh perspective that maybe I’m not taking ownership of how things are going around me and maybe I need to step up.
“The fact that we are even having this listening session rejuvenates, sort of, my enthusiasm for how we should be doing things, what I should be doing and how I can make things better.”
I appreciated Dianna being so honest during the session, not just because of her kind remarks, but also because of her frustrations. And she made a very good point that we all would do well to think about during this new year.
What can we do to shine our own light to make the world around us better?
When it comes to being a leader, one of the most important things we can do is to give those within our span of care a grounded sense of hope for the future. We need to create organizations where people feel cared for.
But those efforts aren’t entirely limited to people in positions of leadership who have teammates within their direct span of care. In the down days, we often look to each other for that lift. If someone says a kind word to you when you are discouraged, it can make all the difference in the world. And you can do the same for someone else.
In our workplaces, we’re a team. We’re all people who are imperfect. We can all do better.
Even in our families, our kids aren’t perfect every day. We aren’t perfect parents every day. There’s no part of life that’s a straight line.
In the movie “Parenthood,” Mary Steenburgen’s character tells her husband Steve Martin “Life is messy.” He says he doesn’t like messy. Then the grandmother comes into the room and tells the story of going on a roller coaster. She says:
Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride… I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.
Organizations are a lot like families and roller coasters. There are going to be ups and downs. Maybe we said something we shouldn’t. Maybe we could have said something encouraging to make the day of the person next to us.
Everyone plays an important role in a business or organization. We all play a part in creating an environment of care, in being there for each other.
Just like Dianna, we’re going to have our frustrations. But the question is, “How do we deal with them?”
The important task for all of us, the piece we can play in the puzzle no matter our role in the organization, is to try to be the light. To be the encouragement and the kind word that helps the person next to us.
You may not have people who report to you. You may not be one of the senior leaders in your organization, but your words and actions can make an incredible impact on the people around you. Those actions can make a huge difference, not only in your organization, but in the world.
As we enter this new year, no matter what trials it brings, no matter the frustrations that lie ahead, shine your light. The shadows may always be there when the light is shining, but the darkness will never take over.