Channel Your Inner Mick Jagger

You can’t always do it yourself. Go ahead and sing it now. Channel your inner Mick Jagger because sometimes you can get what you want if you don’t always try to do it yourself.

Maybe it’s because we’re all so busy these days or, maybe there are simply a lot of people who like to control, but it does seem there are a growing number who think it is just quicker and easier to do it themselves. I keep being reminded that while it may be a tempting quick fix to do it ourselves, it is a rather myopic view that doesn’t set us up well for the long haul in our personal lives, workplaces, or the communities where we live.

I first learned about the importance of letting go of power and trusting others while working for the City of Niagara Falls a number of years ago.
New to the field of municipal recreation I had been hired as a community development coordinator to assist the many volunteer-based groups who were responsible for the bulk of the recreation, sport, arts, culture, and heritage activities across the city.

Among my responsibilities was a travelling playground program that provided activities for kids in city parks throughout the summer. It wasn’t long before I got tangled in the issues and demands of trying to meet everyone’s needs, and bumped up against challenges I wasn’t sure how to resolve. Quite certain I was going to be fired, I walked into the next meeting of the volunteer advisory committee crying uncle and asking for help.

To my surprise, the committee immediately got to work brainstorming, sharing ideas, and weighing potential solutions. While it’s not necessary to share the details, the bottom line is that the group demonstrated collective wisdom in action, and an end result that included a number of brilliant strategies.

Even better, every single member of the volunteer committee stepped up to help implement the recommendations. We ended up having one of the most successful seasons ever experienced by the summer playground program, and a record breaking number of kids who were active and engaged. Ironically, while I had been afraid I was going to lose my job, I was instead commended for doing such a great job of engaging the volunteers and finding innovative solutions.

Who knew it could be as easy as asking for help?

While I might have been able to find and implement interim solutions on my own in less time, for sure they wouldn’t have been as effective as what the group was able to do as a collective. Even more importantly, because they designed the solutions, they owned them, and therefore took responsibility for putting them into place

As the solutions evolved in a process that was wasn’t always orderly, I must admit there were times when it was tempting to step in and take the reins. However, I’m glad my lack of experience stopped me from doing that because I now know that could have been interpreted in a negative way and communicated a lack of trust.

While loosening my grip and encouraging more collaboration and ownership, albeit by accident, was initially challenging, it ultimately made my job easier by having others shoulder the burden. It also helped me learn an important lesson about leadership. It showed me that the job of a community leader is not to make the decisions and solve problems, but rather to implement a process that will help others do it on their own. It taught me that when a leader is effective, those who were involved will say, “We did it ourselves”.

Posted on 04-02-14

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