It’s What You Do That Counts…

Last week, I was having a discussion with a colleague about life with kids and he shared that he felt like taking 10 minutes for himself to just breathe, meditate, watch the game or read a book had become impossible because there is always something going on that required his undivided focus and energy. I asked him if that is what he wanted his kids to think? He stopped and stared at me as if I had grown a unicorn horn.

I shared with him that my four kids are all out of the house on their own. My husband and I are empty nesters. It is quiet except for the typical family gatherings and holidays. I have realized that the rituals that you share as a family whether it be favorite food night, new PJ’s on Christmas Eve, or having a slumber party under a blanket fort the night before family vacation, these things matter. It is amazing to see that what you do sticks with your kids far more than what you say. These little rituals are invaluable to children and as adults my children all continue to come home to practice these events as a family. As the kids have grown up, I have also had my own ritual that occurs daily. I sit for a moment at the start of the day and do what I call the attitude of gratitude. A simple table is in my office with some of my favorite trinkets, little gifts from my kids, small souvenirs from vacation, and a rock I got from a trip with my husband. I light a candle on this table and say a simple meditation of thanks for all of the blessings our family enjoys. While I never forced my kids to participate in this daily 10-minute quiet time of reflection and gratitude, they observed me in my private little space when I thought I was virtually invisible behind the video games, school plays, homework, and soccer.

Now that our children are on their own, they often invite my husband and I to their homes for a visit. I realized that what I did was more impactful than I ever imagined; in each of their homes in the corner of a room sat a small table with little trinkets that are important to them, favorite pictures, gifts that they have saved over the years, little bits of nature, and souvenirs from times we have enjoyed as a family. When I asked them to tell me about this little space, each independently shared that the daily attitude of gratitude was important to them and they were taking time to do this daily. Aside from all the buzz and busyness in the daily life of a college student, they saw and emulated even the most subtle action. I was thrilled and stunned at the same time. How many actions did they observe that I hoped they wouldn’t emulate? People do what you do, not what you say.

I shared this with my coworker and reiterated that people are the same at work. They don’t always do what you say they will do what you do. As a leader and co-worker, you have to be aware that actions are contagious. A single person can in fact start a movement. If you are displaying a calm and deliberate approach to work, others will follow. If you are negative and just move through the motions of the day, eye rolling and internally complaining, others will follow.

There are three things I recommend to stay on track and ensure people are emulating the right action.

1. Never let them see you EXPLODE! Think about your ability to manage stress as a balloon that is slowly filled with air. Each stressful event adds more air to the balloon. A little bit of air doesn’t stretch the balloon too much, but over time the balloon will become full of air and eventually we all know what happens to a balloon that is overfilled, it EXPLODES. If you are about to lose your steam because of too many stressors, do not EXPLODE in front of your team. This says to the team that it is ok for them to react the same way. Instead of constantly adding air to the balloon, let a little out every day. Every hour stop and notice your breath for 10 seconds; we all have 10 seconds.

2. Be deliberate. Action without planning is just chaos. Chaos causes a lack of collaboration and fills the stress balloon rapidly. Have a plan, share the plan with your team, work the plan, and measure the plan. Work will always include a bit of a whirlwind, but the more you can take away surprises from yourself and those around you, the calmer everyone will be. Additionally, the shared sense of purpose gives a sense of accomplishment and team- work becomes a pleasure.

3. Be Present. You may be interested in multi-tasking when you are engaging with another person, but it is impossible to be fully present for two different actions. Put everything aside, notice your breath, and pay full attention to the person or group that you are with. Let people see you with this high level of engagement and they will practice being present too!

I talked to my coworker about a week later and was glad to hear that he decided to spend 5 minutes every day to sit silently in gratitude. The second week of doing this his 7-year-old daughter quietly walked over and sat, not moving for the entire 5 minutes – doing what she saw not what she heard.

Author: Kelly McGill, Ph. D.

As a coach and talent strategist, Kelly McGill has spent over 20 years working with teams at fortune 500 companies to tie golden thread around talent strategy and business strategy. With an inspirational and inclusive approach, Kelly helps leadership teams create an environment of inclusivity and partnership to drive custom talent solutions.

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