Her behavior was classic, but not in the good way you’d associate with rock music, the flavor of Coke, or automobiles built before most of us were walking the planet.
This was classic in the sense of a downward spiral; an all too familiar pattern of being caught between learning what you’re supposed to do and discovering just how in the world you’re supposed to get it all done.
I had walked in her shoes.
Lauren, like so many new leaders, saw her circle as being fully expanded from Day One.
Eager to prove herself and finding it difficult to say “No”, she hastily accepted new tasks without considering what was already on an industrial-sized To-Do list.
The abundant enthusiasm and vivacity that prompted her promotion had morphed into nervous and chaotic energy, decreasing her productivity, and weakening an already questionable relationship with her staff.
The key to reversing that spiral was helping her realize how much she was unwittingly . . . or perhaps wittingly, taking on.
My Beautiful Balloon
Everyone wants to make a great first impression.
But when it comes to meaningful growth and development, it helps to picture yourself blowing up a balloon:
While motivated by what the balloon will look like when fully expanded, it is a difficult task to accomplish in just one breath.
That is, unless you’re a balloon artist, have extraordinarily huge lung capacity, or perhaps have a really tiny balloon.
For the rest of us, it’s a rhythmic sequence . . . breathe in . . . breathe out . . . breathe in . . . breathe out.
Each action has a purpose, first to replenish and then fulfill. The balance between the two is critical as you watch your beautiful balloon expand to its potential, pausing between breaths to monitor and evaluate the progress that you’ve made.
Your personal growth can mimic this experience.
Recognize that fluidity is paramount; breathe in to replenish knowledge and awareness from exposure, then pause to evaluate application and intrinsic value. Breathe out with confidence, secure in your ability to expand influence and motivate behaviors within your environment.
Breathe in to replenish . . . breathe out to influence.
Balloons will come in different shapes and sizes . . . levels of complexity if you will. Accept that your balloon is uniquely beautiful and inherently personal.
Embracing An Elastic Perspective
There is tremendous value in embracing a holistic or, in this case, an elastic perspective of personal growth and development.
Bringing the why into the how is a necessary next step in translating this pragmatic approach into purposeful, practical experience.
In Lauren’s case, we began with understanding the importance of two-way communication:
Breathe In – Communicate to Collaborate
No one wants to say “No” to their leader.
It paints a very negative picture of your commitment and willingness to grow, sort of like letting air escape from your balloon after working so hard on the first few breaths.
On the other hand, saying nothing, reverting to accepting tasks as if assigned through divine right, offers an implicit approval of your ability to accomplish them . . . with excellence, I presume.
Any leader worth their salt will recognize that you were chosen for your potential and expect a corresponding learning curve as part of the growth process.
What they will also do is determine where you are along that curve, keeping their foot on the task-assignment pedal until one of two things happen: either you fail at a task, or you begin asking clarifying questions.
Given those two options, you can see how one is the preferred, more proactive approach.
Realize that seeking guidance and pursuing a greater understanding of strategy and vision isn’t negative . . . it is saying “Yes” in a very positive and mature approach that adds depth and value to your performance.
Demonstrate your willingness to engage within a collaborative relationship, a valued dose of humility that will continue to replenish your growth efforts as you “breathe in, breathe out”.
Breathe Out – Channeling Direction
Dust off some archaic behavior models, and you’ll find this referred to as Communicating Down, as in the opposite of Up.
Evolved leaders embrace their role as a conduit of information, channeling strategic direction and vision in practical terms their teams can embrace, building empowerment, and promoting full engagement.
Again . . . that depends on having sought guidance and clarity through a collaborative relationship with your leader.
Lauren’s current state was clinging to an upbeat persona and an overly optimistic attitude. Without tangible and cohesive direction, task assignments were falling on deaf ears. She was breathing into her balloon, but there was no expansion . . . no growth, no hope that tomorrow would be better than today.
Once she began feeling comfortable with the volume and quality of information she was receiving, confidence in communicating with her new team blossomed. Tasks were accomplished with greater accuracy and efficiency.
Interactions with her leader began to match this newfound enthusiasm; her team began looking forward to updates and results from routine meetings.
Her balloon was expanding as a product of improved, impactful, and inspiring new levels of communication.
She had become the positive influence everyone had expected her to be.
Up, Up and Away
There will be more hurdles for Lauren to overcome. Her story, like the rest of ours, is still unfolding.
What if we expanded our elastic imagery to that of a hot air balloon? We’d most likely realize the patience required for a dream of that size to take flight.
Hot Air Balloon rides are a popular activity in Central Florida given our topography, providing unobstructed aerial views of some of the world’s most popular theme parks and attractions.
Each balloon comes bundled, a tightly wound package like those housing our deepest dreams and aspirations. We know what they’re supposed to look and feel like . . . which is a far cry from where they are now.
As crews unfold the mammoth balloons, they look heavy and dense. Heated air is pumped into the sac . . . it seems to take forever, but there is trust in the process.
Eventually, density becomes light, fulfilling the balloon’s potential and lifting our perspective as promised.
Your personal growth may follow the same process. There will be times when you’ll feel like a big, deflated balloon. Trust in the process of learning and development. Take the time to evaluate the intrinsic value of an experience and use it to influence your environment.
It may take a while. But soon enough you’ll be way up in the air in your beautiful balloon . . . velvet tuxedos and sequin gowns optional.
Some classics never die.
This Is Tall Tim and I Am At Your Service!