What should I do?
Have you ever been in a meeting where you aren’t the one presenting, and you’re not sure what to do?
Some people disconnect, stop listening, or do their email, while others might look for ways to interject into the presentation. It’s difficult to know how to play a role in these moments, especially if you want to be noticed by your peers.
How do you show that you’re engaged in the meeting without making it about you or disconnecting? The first thing you have to do is recognize that you don’t have to play a lead role in every meeting.
Is this scene about you?
These past few weeks, I’ve been rehearsing a play that will open in June. It’s a brand-new play, and therefore, we are all trying to understand what needs to happen and how it needs to be done for the first time.
The other day, just after we had finished putting together a dramatic scene at the end of the play, one of the actors asked what he should be doing in that scene.
(I was glad he asked because I was wondering the same thing about myself.)
The director’s response has been resonating in my head ever since. Below is a paraphrase of the conversation:
“Well, this scene isn’t about your character.”
Then, in explanation, he said, “You can support.” He then looked at all of us and said, “Just support what’s happening.”
This was my favorite part: This scene isn’t about your character. How often do we get confused about this?
We all play these characters at work and in life, and it’s easy to think that every scene is about you.
Think of these scenarios:
- You’re at your daughter’s basketball game.
- Your best friend’s birthday celebration.
- Giving someone their performance review.
Are any of these scenarios about you?
I imagine that some of you have been to one or two weddings where someone stood up to give a speech that was more about them than it was about the married couple.
While these might seem obvious to most of you (maybe you already get that not every moment is about you), the question of what do we do instead is often unclear.
You can support!
A few years ago, I was talking to a good friend of mine about how he sees his role at work. He spent twenty years in the Navy and had climbed to the rank of Commander before he finally retired. I’m always curious about his perspective on leadership.
What I often hear him saying is that the culture is built around making your manager/boss’s job easier and empowering the people below you to make decisions.
In other words, you support.
It isn’t about taking care of others or being subservient to your boss. It’s about looking for and removing the ways that you might be making it harder for others to succeed. When it’s clear that the scene isn’t about us, then we stop trying to get something from the moment and instead look for ways to make others better.
According to my friend, the Navy codifies this into their culture, so it’s easier to trust that playing a supportive role will be noticed and appreciated.
In the corporate world, it can sometimes feel like ego wins the day.
(I wonder where we got this idea from?)
But I don’t blame corporate culture entirely. We see the world through a projector that has us as the star of the scene.
It’s so difficult to accept that what’s happening isn’t necessarily about us, but when we do, we open ourselves up to new possibilities for connection.
One of the simplest of actions on a stage is also one of the hardest: listening.
The simplicity of this action is amazing because when someone is really listening to another person, they are not only being still, they are engaged in a manner that is both exciting and electric.
There’s nothing “to do,” and yet so much happens when we listen with our whole body.
It’s difficult to do because there are so many distractions in our mind. In terms of a play, you have to think about your lines, the blocking, and the gallery of strangers in the audience who are watching you.
There’s so much noise that it can be difficult to hear, never mind listen with your whole body. But when you forget yourself, and really see the other actors, it can be a gift for everyone.
The same is true in business settings. We’re worried about our status in the room, whether people think that we’re smart or important, and we recognize that everything we do is being critiqued on some level by people who hold our future in their hands.
The noise can be deafening.
That’s why “support” is a great framework for this.
If you’re willing to step out of the lead role, and if you’re willing to support the other people in the room, then the noise will slowly quiet in your head.
You won’t be worrying so much about yourself. You will be looking for ways to listen, engage, and connect.
If you’ve ever had someone listen to you, really listen, then you know how valuable this is.
When you take the stance that this scene is not about your character, and you choose to support (your boss, your direct reports, or your friends), you show up for them in a way that can transform their life and your relationship to them.
If you’re the leader of your organization, what if you were to make this your culture? What would be possible?
Take the ego out of the equation, and support what’s needed or what’s helpful for the moment, and you will create a company that’s engaging, compassionate, and exciting to work for.
Take the time today to ask yourself, “What scenes will I be in today?”
“How can I support what’s happening?”
Give these a try and notice what happens.
The payoff could be deeper relationships, more trust, and better work product all around.
p.s. The play I mentioned is called “Caravan of Dreams.” It’s a world premiere fantasy about a girl who must save her city from mysterious dark forces. (Spoiler: I’m playing the “dark forces.”) There’s music, comedy, and a huge puppet, and it all takes place in the Desert of Maine (yes, that’s a thing.) I’d love to have you show up, if you’re able. You can buy tickets here. It only runs on Saturdays and Sundays through June. You will want to bring your own chairs or blanket for the sand.
p.p.s. I’ve been quietly working on a side project with my friend and co-conspirator, Ken Grady, CIO at IDEXX, on a podcast about leadership and communication. I’ll be sending more information in a week or so, but I’ll tease the title of the podcast:
“It’s not personal: A conversation between a CIO and Leadership coach who take the sometimes contrarian, always humanistic view on leadership, tech, and making the workplace better for humans.”
It will be about 12 episodes geared towards anyone interested in leadership, tech, management and communication. (There will also be a little about trying to be a good human being as well.) Keep a lookout for notices in the coming weeks.