A few years ago, I was pitching to run a series of courses in the US. My potential client wanted a locally-based Facilitator to lead the Programme. Fortunately, I had a strong recommendation for someone in the US—let’s call her Anna—and arranged for her to join me and the client at two meetings they were having (one on the east coast and one in LA).
We often talk about how important first impressions are. Well, suffice it to say that Anna and my client just didn’t hit it off. There was nothing wrong with Anna, they just didn’t see eye to eye – the rapport wasn’t great, and it didn’t improve. By the time we were on the way to LA, I knew that Anna wasn’t going to pass as my local Lead.
Clutching at straws
So I was now on my way to LA and had just 48 hours to come up with an alternative, or I could feel this work slipping away. I was well and truly stressed and, to make matters worse, a bottle of aftershave in my case broke… so I arrived at the hotel with a suitcase reeking of CK1 and a headache that was almost unbearable. I called my wife and blurted out this dilemma. “You’ll be fine”, she said, “you’ll work it out”. I almost screamed “You can’t just say that!”. However, it seemed to hang over me almost like a challenge. I paced around under the LA sun and tried to work out what to do. Then I thought of a straw I could clutch at…
Many years previously, I had worked with a US-based trainer, Dan, who was more the kind of person my client would connect with. I hadn’t considered Dan previously because I knew he’d switched to a full-time job and was moving away from training. I didn’t even know where he lived in the US. But I still had his number – what did I have to lose?
You can tell what’s coming… not only did my call come in the very day Dan had left the job because he wanted to return to training, but he was also available to come in for a meeting and lived a mere 20 miles from where I was.
And so the job was won. I have to credit my wife who, with her simple mantra “You’ll be fine”, was in effect doing what so many excellent leaders do in motivating teams.
Motivation through liberation?
“You’ll be fine” has so much to it. It says so many things: “There’s a solution that you can find… you just haven’t thought of it yet”; “I trust you because you have always delivered”; and even “you’ll be fine if you finish unloading on me and get to it!”. In fact, the irritation I felt when she said it most likely pushed me to rethink and not stay stuck in the problem.
Telling someone they will succeed in a tough corner—especially when they are feeling overwhelmed—can be irritating and disruptive, but ultimately liberates them to be creative, safe in the knowledge you believe in them. I’m not sure it’s a robust model for motivation, but it still works for me.
It wasn’t the only thing I learnt on that trip. The other lesson was, of course, not to put glass bottles of aftershave in your luggage… no matter how sophisticated the scent!
Managing Director, Sun and Moon Training
Photo by Sean Kowal / Unsplash