When the school year ends, a long list of college students prepare themselves to head down the valley of summer internships. Students find themselves in working environments to get a taste of what awaits. These students are about to embark on a new journey. They are about to learn more from a practical level. They are about to see the ins and outs of working life. They will learn from people who work for a living, who had to roll up their sleeves and from people who live an everyday routine.
One of my previous honors was to walk a team of young college students around an office building in midtown Manhattan. I answered their questions about building routines and mechanical operations. I saw them as young promises to a new world. I saw them as hopeful as ever. I saw them as eager to learn and to know and to experience. I saw them as future possibilities. They had hopes and dreams. They had ideas. They had zest, and yet, most of them showed a reserved sense of unsure or possible awkwardness in our conversations. Nearly all of them repeatedly checked their phones in two-minute intervals.
As luck would have it, some of the interns chose to speak with me about their ideas. They spoke about their hopes after graduation. I encouraged them to speak. I encouraged them to live and learn and make mistakes. I offered ideas that were never offered to me. I suggested ideas such as: don’t be afraid to get lost and find your way back, don’t be worried about the twists and turns, or the bumps in the road. We all have setbacks. We all have disappointments. But we also have the ability to endure. We have the right to correct our position, rise above and to achieve. And no one in this world has the right to take away our freedom to improve.
A young man explained that he was going into finance. Another explained that his father and his uncle were professionals in law. Most of his family worked in the law field.
“Is that what you want to do?” I asked.
The young hopeful lawyer answered, “I don’t know.”
He explained, “I guess I just always assumed this is what I’m supposed to do.”
My only offering was simple. “Whatever you choose to do with your life, be sure to enjoy it.”
I see them as hopeful. The interns, I mean. There is a great big world out there, which was theirs for the taking. All they have to do is reach out. Be excited. This is the best advice I could give them.
There is something to be said about the idea of “working for a living.” Additionally, there is something to be said about being happy with the work we do, which by any means, this does not mean that every day will be the best. Yet to operate at our best, we have to learn to navigate both personally and inter-personally through troubled times. It is inevitable that not all things will go our way. It is equally true that mistakes happen. Downfalls and setbacks are part of success and achievement. And to keep it simple: the same as there’s a chart for the stages of personal change; this concept can also explain the ideas of professional growth.
The Transtheoretical Model (also called the Stages of Change Model), developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late 1970s starts with pre-contemplation to contemplation, to preparedness, to action and completes with termination (by way of maintenance). However, veering away from the idea of transformational wellness models, the stages of change are easily adaptable to our profession or workplace environment. More interesting is this, people who find themselves comfortable to do or try, and for those who understand their abilities and how to withstand constructive criticism are more likely to share ideas as well as promote the spirit of their team.
There are a few things to take note of:
- Transparency breeds comfort
- Comfort breeds the idea of safety or control
- Safety builds trust
- Trust enables an open discourse
- Open discourse leads to sense of inclusion and teamwork
- Teamwork leads to synergy
- Synergy leads to productivity
On February 3, 2002 the New England Patriots took to the field to face the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl. Tom Brady, who later became football royalty, was only a young man at the time. It was determined that the Patriots were going to lose. However, in spite of their status as underdogs, the Patriots entered the stadium in truly inspirational form. Rather than be introduced one by one and starting player by starting player, the New England Patriots decided to be announced as a team. No one was to be named specifically. They were only to be named as a team. It was clear that to overcome the odds against them and to pull off one of the biggest upsets in football history, the effort needed to be a team effort. This meant that everyone needed to be valued equally. This meant everyone would need to be included. All voices were to be heard. All constructive ideas were to be shared because no one is above or below the process. They were a team who was quoted to pull off “the greatest show on turf.”
There are times when people lose themselves in the know-it-all-ness of their position. However, there are leaders who understand that by listening and including constructive ideas that synergy leads to productivity.
I was in a debriefing after working on one of my first initiatives in the fight against the opiate epidemic. The conference room table was filled with professionals, clinicians, politicians, prosecutors and people in suits and ties. Opinions shot back and forth about the efforts. At the time, the Northern New Jersey Prosecutor took special interest in this case. He asked me, “What do you think?”
At first, I answered cautiously. I was told to stay in my lane.
I was told, “Let the professionals do their job.”
“You’re the first person they speak to,” said the prosecutor.
“I want to know what you think.”
Had he not encouraged me to share my feedback, I would have kept quiet. However, as a means to create synergy, the prosecutor understood that this needed to be a team effort. The initiative was a success. As a member of the initiative, I found myself on the front page of the newspaper.
To “Be the Better and Embrace the Culture” we have to learn to embrace one another as integral pieces of a working machine. Even leaders need guidance and without their team behind them, regardless of rank or position, background or diversity, by listening, we find the wheels of synergy can spin freely without hiccups or bumps.
The importance of the team’s voice is only honored when all voices are encouraged. By the way, another honor of mine was to learn about an intern who wrote his college thesis about me. And why? Because I included him. I gave him a voice and valued his feedback.
By the way, he’s a VP at a large insurance firm now.
Way to go, kid…
Way to go!