June 3, 2020

Sometimes You Need to Wear Your Purple Shoes

Things are pretty tough for a lot of people right now. Truthfully, there has never been a time when things weren't hard for someone.

In tough times, emotional intelligence is particularly necessary for leaders. A leader must be able to accurately gage the situation, find ways to understand what his or her team members are facing, and respond in ways that build up and encourage them.

While many jobs and businesses are very serious and require discipline and hard work, great leaders learn to recognize times when a different approach is needed...

Sometimes we just need to lighten up.

Several years ago at a Christmas party, we had a traditional "Dirty Santa."

You probably know about that. It's a game you play where everyone brings a gift and picks a number out of a hat. The lower numbers get to choose a gift early. At the beginning, they're all wrapped so you don't know what's in the package. It could be something really cool, or it might be a "white elephant." People with higher numbers can either pick a wrapped gift or "steal" a gift that someone else had previously picked. The number of times that a gift can be stolen is limited by an agreed upon rule.

That particular year someone picked a gift that I immediately coveted (I ain't lyin'!)

Most people would have considered it a white elephant but, to me, it screamed with possibility.

I HAD to have it!

So, when the opportunity came, I stole it from the person who initially picked it. They seemed quite relieved because it meant they were able to pick a new gift or steal one that was already picked by someone else. Once I picked that particular gift, it was mine. No one else tried to steal it. What was it?

Purple Reebok Kool-Aid Shoes, in MY SIZE!

Now, most people who know me, know that I'm pretty conservative, and I usually dress that way. So, purple shoes seem a little out of character. But I knew I'd be able to do something with them.

I have to say that these shoes were awesome! I mean, they even smell like grape Kool-Aid (or they did until I'd worn them a few times). I don't know anyone else who has anything like them.

There is a lot that’s serious about leadership. Properly influencing people to accomplish tasks, both the mundane and the extraordinary, can sometimes be challenging. There’s often a lot at stake both for the people involved and for the organization. Jobs and livelihood, as well as the success of the mission, deserve to be taken seriously.

Still, while I (mostly) consider myself a serious person, I've found over the years that many people considered me so serious that I was unapproachable, or even cold. That grieved me, especially looking back at the times when people really got to know me and confided their previous hesitance. One, who later became a dear friend, once confided to another person that he didn't understand why I didn't like him. My characteristic formality was interpreted as disdain. The other person let me know about that conversation, and I immediately sought to repair the damage I'd done. Looking back on that, I realize the blessing I'd missed in not having a friendship with this man earlier. My stuffiness harmed him and it harmed me.

As a leader, you have serious responsibilities. I get that, but...

How often do we send the wrong message by defaulting to seriousness and neglecting the human touch?

How often do we take ourselves or our mission so seriously, that we fail to take relationships seriously?

How often do we fail to realize that everyone has difficulty in life and that a true servant leader has the power to provide some necessary relief?

How often should we recognize that it's possible to have a serious calling but also to have serious fun?

I often have to remind myself (before someone else reminds me) that life is too short to neglect fun, to neglect humor, to forget to laugh, to neglect a human touch.

I have to remind myself that, as comfortable as I sometimes get in my no-nonsense, buttoned-down self, that a real leader needs to remember that it's sometimes better to mellow out (yeah, I grew up in the '60s and '70s).

Those you lead will have much more respect for you and often will be more willing to give more discretionary effort to the serious tasks you all have -- not because they have to, but because they want to.

You may think it's your job to be no-nonsense, serious, task-focused, or whatever you want to call it. But think about what you (and your team) lose by majoring on that to the exclusion of finding positive ways to lighten up.

Find a way, every day to...

Put On Your Purple Shoes

 (By the way, you're going to have to find your own. These are mine!)

2 comments on “Sometimes You Need to Wear Your Purple Shoes”

  1. I’m starting to realize, more and more recently, that “putting on my purple shoes” means much more than lightening up and having a little fun. For me, it also means being willing, in many ways, to get out of my comfort zone. Acting in ways that go beyond the ease of the buttoned-down life and persona I’ve created.

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