Mossy Swamp Green . . . wonderful shade along the color wheel, perfect for an accent wall or throw pillows on a sofa.
Not so perfect as the color of your pool.
Buried in the depths of a global pandemic, I watched the heat and suffocating humidity of a Central Florida summer slowly reduce our glistening pool to a murky pond.
It had become a wildlife refuge, an unintended playground for primeval creatures who gleefully swam in its water, oblivious to the emotional trauma inflicted by their presence in my once beloved sanctuary.
The path to recovery would lead me back to the grassroots of leadership excellence, notably the importance of balancing clarity and confidence in leading an engaged work environment.
But first there was all that green . . .
On the water Wings of a Pool Guru
A palpable sense of relief could best describe the reaction of our pool service when informed their services were no longer required.
Who could blame them? Ours is an unscreened pool amid towering oak trees, set against a backdrop of Lake Apopka’s marshy wetlands. It is a living, breathing science experiment.
When it was decided our new pool service would be me, we contracted a Pool Guru to evaluate the situation and provide guidance on how to proceed.
Surveying the green monster together, he listened to me lament about the constant presence of algae in the pool. He then said: “I wouldn’t want to swim in a pool where algae couldn’t grow.”
This struck me as counter intuitive. “Ew?!” was all I could think.
Then I realized he wasn’t suggesting we bathe in aquatic eukaryotic organisms but was reflecting on a desired balance within the environment.
His assessment was succinct: We could return the pool to its pristine state without an abundance of chemical additives. The setting, however, would demand more than a once weekly effort to maintain a safe and enjoyable environment.
Fostering A Culture of Expression
The mental solitude of pool care is oddly therapeutic, the cadence of consistent and deliberate actions capable of inspiring insight across multiple levels of awareness.
I continued to ponder the presence of algae in a pool as confirmation of an environment suitable for growth and development.
Somewhere within the intuitiveness that defines my mental preference, I summarized that the presence of expression in a work environment serves the same purpose:
An open and free exchange of ideas signals an engaged environment suitable for growth and development.
The difference is in how we respond to the presence of each: Algae is treated as an unsightly contaminant, hurriedly swept away to remove further impact on its environment.
What does it say if we do the same thing to creative thought and contrasting opinion?
A Culture of Expression fosters trust and cohesiveness. It breeds fun, which in turn unleashes unparalleled passion and creativity.
By allowing something so incredibly genuine to emerge from within, you gain a truly intimate perspective shared among those looking to us for guidance.
Those perspectives provide clarity. Decisions are made with confidence knowing they benefit the overall environment, not a fleeting condition or perceived threat.
Three insights pertain to maintaining this balance within a Culture of Expression:
Insight: There is No Substitute for Daily Presence and Effort
Toward the beginning of my pool care experience, I would visually evaluate the status of the pool from the kitchen window or back deck.
“Wow, the pool looks great,” I would state in between sips of tea in the morning, then discover by mid-afternoon the pool wasn’t looking so great.
Looks can be deceiving. Your environment is organic and fluid, subject to influence from any number of internal or external sources.
My advice is to get out of the boardroom and into the breakroom.
Make your presence a daily habit. This isn’t micro-managing, its role modeling expected behaviors.
Routinely and consistently invest the time and effort to actively listen to impressions from your team. Then personally respond to ideas and suggestions.
Individuals perform with greater confidence when they trust their voice will be heard and contributions received with genuine consideration.
They feel like players in the game, not pawns in a high-level strategic agenda.
Insight: Expression May Expose Sources of Conflict
Remaining open to expression may expose the presence of conflict your environment. As Shrek used to say, “Better out, than in.”
Be mindful that order follows chaos. Routinely “brush” your environment by initiating proactive discussion related to potential areas of agitation or concern.
Sources of conflict can remain buried beneath layers of emotion and insecurity. By allowing these to surface through expression, you can more readily address the issues, minimizing influence on performance and behavior.
Take note of how other members of the team engage in this open dialogue.
While it may indicate deeper concerns within the stability of your environment, it may also represent a fleeting condition that can be addressed with minimal disruption through a shared perspective.
Either way, you’ll have greater clarity regarding your next steps.
Insight: Balance is Maintained by Asking “What Matters Most?”
My first challenge as a self-care pool attendant came after I had patiently and methodically returned the water to its desired clarity.
Several consecutive days of rain resulted in a major algae bloom. My response: more chlorine.
My results: more algae.
I had totally ignored how several elements contribute to the overall stability of the environment. Focusing on one obvious and dominant factor only intensified the nature of the imbalance.
The same caution applies to the health and stability of your work environment.
You may sense that your team feels less engaged. Many leaders attempt to re-energize their teams through impromptu gifts, celebrations, or other assorted activities.
Instead, why not explore elements outside of the obvious by asking your team: What matters most to you?
The clarity attained eliminates guesswork, instilling confidence that your actions will be impactful.
This is especially true as we move forward with a more hybrid model of a standard work environment. While pay, workload, and career advancement remain relatively stable, an absence of daily interactions can have a negative impact on engagement.
Rather than receiving a meaningless chachki, one respondent offered, “I just want to know you still care about me.”
I’m confident that is well within your abilities as a leader to make happen.
As The Year Goes By
I’m working through the second summer of Tall Tim’s Pool Care Experience. So far, I’ve lost a few battles but have grown stronger from the experience.
You may feel the same when initiating a Culture of Expression. At times, being open to creative thought and contrasting opinion is not for the faint of heart.
By fostering an environment of expression, allowing genuine perspective to emerge from within, you are gaining invaluable clarity into what matters most to your team.
Decisions are made with greater confidence, knowing that your actions will benefit the greater good.
Remember our three insights: There is no substitute for Daily Presence and Effort; Expression may expose elements of Conflict; and Balance is Achieved through What Matters Most.
Now if you’ll excuse me, its time for a dip.
Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!