I had the wonderful opportunity to lead something bigger than I’ve ever been in the lead of before. I was invited to provide a nine-day training in St. Louis during this quarter. For this one, we needed nine people on our team. In the past, it had been up to four or so people. I could feel this experience stretching my capacities, and it happened to make me more alert to the question of self-care.
I wished to be available to all eight members of my team, and the demands on my attention were indeed higher than what I was used to. I quickly learned that things can wait. For example, in the mornings there’d be a flurry of texts. The first two mornings I found myself drawn into that and not taking care of myself fully for the day ahead. So I decided to set a time I’d begin checking texts so I could focus on getting ready for the day. Just one example of many similar things I learned to tweak with.
A more serious challenge was navigating differing attitudes toward masking and testing during the training. I’d decided that we would need to mask during our training sessions, but a member of my team didn’t like that. A profound difference in values there. So one aspect of leadership this taught me about is where does the leader set the tone, and where the leader does need to maintain a standard in a product or service, where the team does need to reflect or apply certain values the leader or organization believes in.
This training was also a lesson in delegation and sourcing. Initially, I’d offered to the state agency in Missouri to set up everything, as I’ve done before for smaller trainings. But after some further discussions I realized that the agency could do a lot of things and that would take much off my plate. So we decided they’d take care of hotel reservations, purchasing airfare, renting the vans, etc. It was great to work closely with the two people taking care of those things without that actually being under my direct purview. Sourcing that way did not affect the quality of the training. This is good capacity leveraging.
But the most important lesson for me is that this trip was the first time I truly applied advice I received from my mentor Erin Manning. Her years of experience organizing wonderful retreats, symposia, conferences, etc. taught her not only about sustainability but also about excess. Why stop with sustainable? Why barely survive? Why not much more than that? Those questions have led to the advice she gave me: “Always ask for more than you need and let it leak.”
So I tried to keep that in mind as I negotiated for this gig in Missouri. I asked for a whole extra day for preparation and setup, and asked for travel days that would be for travel and not really for any “work.” I lowered the trainer-participant ratio. I put in a lot of support, more than we used to think we needed. We had a two-hour lunch break and I’d insisted the main training space be in the same hotel we were staying in, so that the lunch break could include actually resting, even taking a nap.
While I still need to tweak more with the “demands on my attention” aspect, asking for more than we “need” did produce wonderful results. We were able to do the training throughout with joy, warmth, patience with our students, and wonderful conversations with the participants as well as with each other within the team. I suppose we could have pulled off a “successful” or an “effective” training with less. But why merely successful or effective? Why not more than that? Do I really want to work for the rest of my life with the merely sustainable?
“Ask for more than you need” is definitely my new mantra. I am excited to explore what that means. It won’t mean the same things always, it will depend on many factors that will differ from context to context. But I know how it felt in St. Louis. I want to become familiar with this feeling of having some excess at work.