I didn’t know I couldn’t juggle. This was an important discovery! Why? I thought I was good at ‘keeping all the balls in the air’.
Let me give you some background: over the years I have become more and more aware of the importance of informal and ‘strategic’ alliances. So, with an attitude of ‘what can I do to help you?’ I gravitate towards people with similar occupations and interests. It’s all about interacting with people where I feel a sense of shared interest.
I love networking! It’s about connecting:
- people with people,
- people with information or
- people with opportunities
So, on Thursday when my plans changed and I could make use of an opportunity to participate in a presenter’s workshop where the topic was ‘leadership’, I made use of the opportunity. John Dickinson of ‘Living in Full Colour’ was the presenter and he captivated us throughout the day with his excellent stories and examples. His coaching style and experiential learning methodology were an integral part of enabling the participants to see his powerful messages for themselves.
For example, at one point he asked us to form a circle and take two ‘balls’ from a pile in the centre. He then juggled two of them and asked us to do the same. Whew! People managed with varying degrees of competence. But I was useless! I couldn’t even do the simple ‘throw and catch’ without dropping them. This was a big lesson! I had not realised I couldn’t juggle – because I had never tried!
Was this an important lesson? Yes it was! The message to me was that ‘what we are not seeing’ can lead to complacency. And to me, complacency and stagnation go together. My question was that if I lacked dexterity in that aspect of my life, what other areas should I be looking at?
The story continues: I was fascinated at the break to notice that a few people had gone to the pile of ‘balls’ and were practising their juggling. To me it appeared that these were the people who were good at juggling. They were attracted to the balls and automatically practised when there was an opportunity. This is a reflection on life in general: we enthusiastically pursue what we have a passion for and this helps us to get better and better. If we aren’t good at something or don’t enjoy it, we don’t make use of opportunities to improve.
It would seem that we have to make a conscious effort to perfect weaknesses. But I do follow the current trend in leadership development which implies that unless a weakness is ‘critical’ we shouldn’t be as obsessed by improvement as we used to be. If we encourage people to spend time on their passions or strengths, the results will usually be compounded. (See ‘The Extraordinary Leader: turning good managers into great leaders’ – Zenger and Folkman, ISBN 978-0-07-138747-7)
I asked John where I could buy some juggling balls and he graciously invited us to take some home with us. So, I took two. That evening, because I automatically try to do more thing than one thing at a time, I took the balls and practised juggling during the news. At first my attempts were pathetic. But, by the end of the TV news I could juggle! (Not well, but I could juggle two balls!) I appreciate that I have a long road to go, but this is a beginning.
So, what is the importance of learning to juggle? What are the lessons from this story?
Some of the questions I’d ask are:
- How are you going about exposing yourself to new and different situations, people, experiences etc.? How are you expanding your horizons?
- What else are you doing to become aware of ‘what you are not seeing’?
- In order to improve in a specific area, once you have self-observed over a period of time, what relevant activities are you going to practise on an ongoing basis? And be specific about this.
- How are you going to build on to this new habit and transfer it to other aspects of your life?
We need to constantly stretch ourselves in relevant ways. This builds up the myelin sheaths around our nerve fibres and prepares us for greater things. If we continue doing the same things over and over, we are not necessarily building ‘new myelin’ or improving ourselves in other ways.
There is a further anecdote relating to the balls. My (almost unconscious) question to myself was: ‘how else can I use the balls’? I had placed them on top of the bookshelf in my office as a reminder of the learnings I had gained from them. I was determined to ‘keep the lesson alive’ and discovered an opportunity. Whenever I’m engrossed in a project at my computer I set the countdown timer for 45 minutes. I have it a distance from my desk and getting up to switch it off is a reminder that I need to get up and move. Now, each time the timer sounds, I walk across the room and juggle for a minute.
I have absolutely no intention of ever letting anyone see me juggle. It’s just nice to know that my blinkers have been taken off!
You can see that I’m passionate about coaching, good coaching, effective coaching. And it begins with ourselves. What are you doing to ‘take your blinkers off’? Be focussed on your vision, pursue those things that you are truly committed to (not just what society or others want you to do) but make sure that you ‘have your blinkers off’ – so that you notice what is going on around you. You need to be able to recognise and optimise opportunities. That requires action, effort. But, do it! Just do it! And the benefits will be enormous.