published in Conway Daily Sun
When I was a kid, we went to church every Sunday morning; I was one of those rare children who enjoyed it, but it mostly felt like an obligation – like some sort of mandatory soft-skills training program, they require you to take at work. The church rules were very clear: you could leave only after the Priest left the alter; not sneaking out on your way back from communion. To meet the letter of the law, every Sunday we sat as near the back of the church as possible. As soon as Father John’s foot hit the floor, we bolted for the back door and walked as fast as we could to the car, to not get stuck in traffic. This meant we were unfamiliar with the coffee and donut social scene and never knew anyone from church. The good news is we had less time sitting in the car, which is where we did a lot of our fighting.
I understand why people say meetings are a waste of time and training is even worse. Training can be like going to church on Sunday and it’s a waste of time because the next moment, you’re back in real life, getting completely demoralized about your job, wondering why they had the training in the first place!
As a young man, I was often tormented by the contradictions and I suppose I eventually became somewhat cynical, as many of us do, about hope for the real world. In the corporate world, I spent my career working to put training theory into practice. To the extent I was able to implement training wisdom into practice, my teams and I excelled, prospered and reveled in the rewards as advertised. Wherever I failed to implement, whether through my own cynicism or that of my team, results were predictably mediocre at best. I have spent the last couple of decades studying how to bridge the gap between the theory and the real-life practice both in work settings and regular life.
In the spring of 2010, I got an email from my friend Erin, (kids - email is how we shared jokes and videos with friends in the pre-Facebook era – weird, I know). Erin was very excited to share a YouTube video about an event called 24
Hours of Kindness, which was produced by Michael Chase in Portland ME. Michael took his video camera and a
Subaru full of balloons, flowers, free coffee cards and the like and spent 24 hours on the streets of Portland, committing random acts of kindness on unsuspecting strangers. Erin’s comment that this is a message we need in our schools, really resonated with me. I searched for Michael Chase online, and found the Kindness Center. We
booked him to come speak at Kennett High school for that fall. With the instant and enthusiastic support of a few local businesses, (Namely, the Red Parka Pub, The MW Auto Road, Good Vibes Coffee and Kline Seminars), we had a movement underway. As a member of the N. Conway Village Association, we were searching for more events in the village and specifically a way to promote more traffic in the month of May. The rest, as they say, is history. A simple comment can be the inspiration, the strike of a single match, can truly light a thousand candles.
In the corporate world, I have been teaching soft skills – so called emotional intelligence training in one form or another since 1993. When attendance is mandatory, employees can be either cynical or enthusiastic, and the difference is not so always in the attitude of the employee, but the employees’ perception of management’s attitude.
Employees often say “this stuff will never work here” because they think management does not really believe or act this way in real life.
In the end, these skills are lost if leadership does not engage staff participation in a meaningful way. To bridge the gap between church and real life – between training and practice, we must encourage the development of the participatory skills of all group members, and then develop a collaborative leadership culture to harvest the collective
wisdom. Gone are the days of the lone genius having all the answers and the magic ability to carrot-and-stick
others to follow. We must learn to include the stakeholders in identifying the problems, the goals and methods and the solutions. If we want creative solutions to complex problems in business, government, community or family relationships, we must invite each other to choose to believe and to participate because of their interest in the results, not because of mandated obligations.
We must believe it is possible to create a better world. For instance, the Union Leader recently asked me if I thought our local Be Kind Fest could really change the world. I offered the only short answer I have ever given to any question in my life. Yes.