I am not a Robot; to lead is to connect

Sept 2017 | John Marik | sharing-business-ideas.com

“You have changed, you used to act like a robot” said a work colleague and friend.

How does one react to a workmate calling you a “robot”?  To me a robot signifies a lack of emotion and an inability to connect on a personal level – or at least that was my interpretation as opposed to referring to my dance style, walk or the way I speak!  This statement from my friend first, and colleague second, on reflection means the world to me that “…I have changed…”.  What was this change and can a person really change?  Why am I bothering you – a business audience – with these trivial matters of emotions?  This was a life changing concept for me personally and in my work life.

Let’s look at the young me that started work; ambitious, competing for attention from superiors, eager to please those said superiors, eager to learn (even though I already knew everything) and a separation of work and play.  Hang on?  What was that last point?  A separation of work and play, what does that mean?  Well what I did when I was younger is to compartmentalise my work mates, or more so colleagues or associates, for Monday to Friday with my “real” friends being those I hung out with on the weekends.  At work I didn’t share too much of the “real” me and connections at work were weak at best and very transactional.

…and here is the kicker…

I am an extraordinarily sensitive person who can quickly and easily “feel” the energy of another person, the real intentions of another person (meaning whether they are genuine, lying, uneasy, nervous etc.) and I can also feel the energy of a room with a small or large group of people.  I am not an empath, I look for total clues and cues including facial expression, speech tone, body language etc., however in some way I do feel a lot, but that’s just being human.  Those people who appear aloof, hardened, acting like a Robot, many times are the most sensitive people that have put up a veneer to protect themselves from getting hurt by feeling too much.

So what changed?

Let’s just say while I was being “successful” of working my up the corporate ladder, going well in my sporting endeavours, supporting a young family blah blah blah, I was given a gift from the Universe.  I got into the shower one day and I said to my then wife that I couldn’t feel the water on my skin, she said to stop joking around.  I went to work and was feeling really lethargic, then almost fell over walking to a business meeting.  By days end I struggled to walk to the car and by nightfall my limbs were failing as was my whole peripheral nervous system.  The rest I won’t bore you with, but over the next week I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).  A long hospital stay of 3 months and then a few years to get back to 100% – my Neurologist at the time, the late and great Doctor Stan Siejka (RIP) said that I will experience what sufferers of Motor Neurone Disease, Stroke and Multiple Sclerosis experience all at once – yay for me!  In typical Aussie fashion though he told me “…chin up John, you’re young [I was in my early thirties] and you’ll be right, you SHOULD get back to living a normal life”.  A week later my neurologist was involved in a skiing holiday accident in New Zealand and passed away.

I was so distraught, not for myself as much as losing my Doctor.  Life never felt so temporary and precarious in that moment.

Reflection 1:

The time in hospital allowed me to reflect on MANY things, long days looking at the walls, missing my family, missing my friends, missing surfing, but the one thing that struck me most was where are my work colleagues, why aren’t more coming to visit me?  Sure I had half a dozen or so, but I could have died, I had paralysis through-out most of my body, was seconds away from intensive care as my lungs were failing and no one cared, why?  I reflected back on my marriage, my then wife’s part of the invitation list was her work colleagues, mine was dominated by old school friends and friends from my sporting pursuits.  Over 5 years at work and I had not allowed myself to connect with the people I work with on a level where they feel close enough to me to show concern for my health and welfare!

Reflection 2:

On coming back to work, the Group I work for was starting the use of the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) system to measure thinking preferences in people.  The premise was to take the company executives through this process to make us better leaders.  My results absolutely shocked me and were so heavily skewed towards the left-brain:

HBDI left-brain preference = analytical thinking and sequential thinking

HBDI right-brain preference = interpersonal thinking and imaginative thinking

My work colleagues now called me the “ice man” because this system highlighted that based on my thinking preferences I gave very little thought to people and creative pursuits.

I protested loudly, “…but that’s only because I filled the test in based on my job and I’M DIFFERENT outside of work!”

WHAT?  How can that be I thought – different at work?  I’m not two people, am I acting at work, am I pretending to be someone outside of work?  I enjoy drawing, I love my family and friends, I surf, I am very creative in how I put complex ideas together into new ideas, frameworks and concepts.  I was told that HBDI doesn’t actually mean you don’t care about people or creative pursuits, it is more a preference in thinking style.  I wasn’t convinced and slightly distraught at being labelled an “ice man”.

Reflection 3:

The universe works in wonderful ways and when one is ready and willing to be educated the teacher arrives.  One day one of my staff saw my HBDI profile and laughed and made a joke about my one-sided profile to which I protested a bit too loudly that I am different outside of work.  Her comment blindsided me and was the final catalyst for change:

She said, and I am paraphrasing as it was quite some time ago now, “there is no home John and work John, you are one person, why don’t you bring yourself to work?”

While my Guillain-Barré Syndrome started a relentless journey of self-improvement through books, courses, talking to new people, having new experiences all in the quest of  “shifting” my HBDI profile.  HR told me that you cannot shift your thinking style and preferences.  I disagreed and wanted to be a more “balanced” person with a more “balanced” profile.  While this was all fantastic and I did shift my profile, I was still me and I actually didn’t change as such, just my self-awareness and awareness of others changed.  What this journey actually started was the  pursuit of connection with my team, my work mates (as opposed to colleagues) and while not everyone can be a mate, buddy or friend at work, the more you understand what makes you tick, the more you understand what makes others tick.

Over the last 8 years I have brought my self to work, there is no delineation between home John and work John, there is one John.  I now have fantastic friends at work and have some lifelong friends.  Those relationships are based on trust and I would do anything for my friends.  Trust underpins effective leadership and decision-making and the ability to feel safe and protected at work to speak up.

So what is the business lesson and why should you care?

Bring yourself to work, have fun, work hard, learn from others, listen more.  Connect with your team as an organisation is only as good as the relationships that you forge and those relationships create a safe culture, one of trust.  Without trust your organisation has nothing.  You cannot say to someone “you have to trust me” – you earn trust through actions, role modelling and behaviours over time.

It is never too late to be a better leader, a better person, a better team member:

  • Get to know the members of your team.  Challenge – what are the names of the kids of your direct reports?  What do your team like to do on weekends?
  • Get to know members outside of your team.  Challenge – Do you know the name of the CEO, great, how about the floor staff such as janitors/cleaners names?
  • Team before self.  Challenge – When you do a presentation have you checked that it is actually something your audience wants or needs to know, or is it about you and your ego?
  • Work to your strengths and to your teams strengths.  Challenge – Do you assemble teams with a varied skill set where there is enough divergence of ideas, or is it about you being right?

I don’t write blog posts to make you buy anything, I simply want to share learnings that you may use in your own life.  Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday was a very influential book for me and highly recommended reading.  The disclaimer is that if you do click through the book title, or to any link through to Book Depository I do get a small commission.

#bringyourselftowork #pursuitofconnection #emotionalconnections #leadership #beyourself #teamwork #buildingsuccessfulteams #relationshipbuilding #guillain-barresyndrome #gbs

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