Value – Connecting With Others

I have had the blessing of leading a team of approximately 60 people including departmental managers, vendors and maintenance personnel. After six months I reflectively looked back at my goals and accomplishments and found that I was not making desired connections and had not helped anyone move closer to their desired potential in a measurable way. I was managing business well -streamlining processes, training and developing employees to improve company standards … blah, blah, blah. I could not tell you a single thing about most of my staff. No idea what their interests, family values, desires, dreams, plans, or anything outside of their jobs. My job is what I do and not essentially who I am. It was my job to drive profits and manage well. It is my purpose to serve and lead whoever God sends to cross my journey of life. Here is a group of sixty people and I have neglected to reach them in a way that is meaningful to them.

The goals for the next six months were:

-pray for them, their families and their jobs

-connect with each department head everyday, whether by word or deed or touch

-take a break when other employees are in the break room -be accessible

-acknowledge birthdays

-be mindful of employees who walk or bus to work, especially when weather is bad

-see who is reading what, potential readers, book club?

-who plays sports (kids play sports)

-thanks, thank you -are great but finds other words to show gratitude (I appreciate you) but be honest and transparent, they can see a phony a mile away

Tall order and lots of moving parts but enough for me to remember to focus and connect with others. One of my teammates was mentally challenged and everyone would talk loudly to him. After watching and purposefully talking with him I found out a few interesting things about him. He was not deaf or hard of hearing, he enjoyed a military career until he suffered from a ‘nervous breakdown’ and was honorably discharged. He was married and had recently had to put his disabled wife in a home as he was no longer able to care for her. He rode a bike to work everyday and then would take the bus to see his wife. He was meticulous with his budget and lived not above his means. He and his wife loved to watch movies together and he was knowledgeable of foreign films 😱. One day I said to him, each day you come to work I want you to tell me a fact about movies I don’t know. He quickly replied, ‘that’s not fair or fun. I do the work and you reap the reward’. Stunned, I said well what do you suggest, sir? He and I agreed that he would tell me a line from a movie and the next day I would tell him what movie did it come from. It turned out to be a lot of fun and others got in on the action as well. Connecting with him in a way they had never done before. Once at the end of his shift he and I were leaving at the same time and it was pouring rain. He asked, ‘is that your car over, Miss Gwendolyn’? I said yep that’s my beast. He relied, good cause me and my bike need a ride home and your suburban can get us there. This made me laugh hysterically. We loaded the bike and headed to his home. After that myself and two others took turns ensuring that he got to and from work in inclement weather.

So you see leadership is about moving and making a difference with people. My staff began to evolve and interact with each other. They also began to find solutions with each other before involving me. Many of them had some really great ideas and you bet we used some of them. There are many experiences I could tell but that will make for one long post. My overarching point is that leadership is rarely focused on the leader. The leader reaps blessings from the gratitude and growth of those in his charge.

To Be or Not To Be

When mentoring, I want to make sure that I am setting the example and that I am always listening and hearing my Mentee clearly. One of my mentees is bi-racial and has hair that seems to ebb and flow with the tides. It is gorgeous and shrinks according to the different levels of humidity. It can be down her back one day and up near her ear lobe the next. It is curly in some places and coily in others. But what it is not -is straight! And that is exactly what she dying to have. Once after getting her hair flat ironed to the level of straightness that she desired, she came home, showered, got her hair wet and POOF! Massive curls again! We laugh now but it was sheer meltdown then. Those massive curls were back to stay and she honestly had no idea what went wrong. Her mother, several friends, and family members have straight hair.
My girl is in crises mode. She wanted and identified with straight hair. So being as good-natured and fun-loving as ever (not), I decided to get some books and magazines on the hair struggle and come up with some ideas and new methods to battle the whole ‘black hair struggle’. After several trips to the bookstores and hours pouring over Pinterest and YouTube, my girl was still struggling and skeptical of the whole free to be natural movement.
One weekend, after getting myself ready for 2.5 days of hair preparations and re-braiding, a thought occurred to me -my example of hair was contradictory to what I was trying to get her to see. I kept my hair in braids because … I did not like my hair. The truth is that I braid it to hid it and not to deal with it. I see clearly now that she and I are sitting on the sidelines watching and sulking. So, the braids came out and did not go back in.
Did I struggle? BIG TIME YES!!! And I still do a little. But here is what I now find fun and unique about my hair -it changes! No one at work ever knows what they are going to encounter when they see me. My looks are so versatile -even I do not know what I am going to get. My Mentee is now experimenting with her hair (yes this is a process that is never done) and LOVING IT FINALLY. She stated that when she returns to school, it going to be interning to see how all the girls with straight hair get to wearing their hair perfectly straight and she will have a different style everyday. I am not allowed to show pictures of her hair yet. I will share a few of mine after the braids.