July 1, 2021
by Allison Iantosca
Growing up we spent summers on a little neck of land along the coast of Maine. It was small enough that you could only access it by one main road and if you drove an unfamiliar vehicle, you quickly felt the stare down and used a turnaround just past the fifteen mile per hour marker to scuttle back up to the more anonymous bustle of Portland. This made it very safe for us kids to flounce about however we pleased, on bike or foot, with little in the way of check in or rules.
There was one rule though that we ALL knew: until you were twelve you had to wear a (damp, stinky, choking, belittling, childish, bright orange) life preserver on the dock at the Yacht Club. I have an August birthday and you can bet my 12th birthday was celebrated at first light, on the dock, NO life jacket. I can’t recall a time previously or since where I felt such a sense of grown-upness.
My son just had a birthday as well and, with it, we decided to give him permission to sit in the front seat of the car to commemorate his successful maturing. I haven’t asked him, but I would bet he feels some similar sense of grown-upness. What I hardly expected, however, is my joy in it. He is my companion now in a whole new way. We banter. He plays songs on the radio that he loves. He holds the phone in GPS mode and guides my turns. We drive in the night in silence, safe in the glow of the dashboard, just being. He talks more, shares more, teases more, observes more…connects even more.
Did this happen at all for my parents when I slid down on the dock free from a flotation device? Perhaps they too felt some shift in how we connected without having to remind or reprimand me about putting it on. How freeing that must have been…to just let me be safe and successful on my own.
And what do you think it would be like if we were able to lead our companies this way?
It is okay to think that rules are good to a point. Systems and protocols do help to create a sense of continuity and consistency and we want this so everyone has the same experience with us. But rules are made for those who are not sophisticated enough to register danger on their own. That’s why we govern kids until they are old enough to know better. As parents we determine right or wrong, good or bad. This makes sense to me. What has never made sense to me is why we insist on governing adults in the same way. If you treat adults like kids, guess what you get?
Let’s opt for a focus on building a team centralized around the idea that each player is, in fact, already a full-fledged contributor. People show up every day seeking to do their best work in an environment that seeks to support strength, innovation, and ideas. This doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes but it does mean we value the learning that goes along with the mistakes. We honor the continued growth and development of each person. We believe that our client interactions are, therefore, more meaningful and our teams serving our clients that much more productive. We try to waste as little time as possible concocting ways to work around or protect ourselves from rules. Instead, we put all that energy into effective relationships. We pay attention to people’s capability. We focus on strength building, efficiency, and optimism so we can drive these outcomes for our clients…who happen to be sophisticated grown-ups too.
It is subtle, but impactful. Just like the shift between my son and me. We want this kind of connection between our clients and our teams. You would hardly expect it or know to ask for it but the grown-upness makes all the difference. I mean who can be at their best in a damp, stinky, choking, belittling, childish, bright orange life preserver on perfectly dry land anyway?
Allison Iantosca is a Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) trained coach with extensive leadership and management experience. She is an Executive Coach and is the Owner and President of Boston based FH Perry Builder.
Photo Credit Miguel Amutio