To lead in December is to lead in the season of contradictions. Here’s the real bad part. We average 3 hours sunlight per day, and our nights grow terribly long until the 20th. There is too much stuff to finish. And there are new family tasks — to deck the halls and trek the malls. Oh, and there’s snow, heating bills, final exams and freezing at the gas pump. Maybe you could use a little of the “contradiction,” I promised. Hang on, it’s coming, and you’ll like it! It’s worth the wait. It’s pretty awesome.
Inevitably some company decides it’s time to hand out pink slips to right the balance sheet. More people die at this time – seems I hear of three deaths every December. Maybe it’s just a hard season to let go of a loved one, so it makes it poignant and forever- remembered. Yep, even deaths are hard in December: The weather’s hard, travel’s hard, even the ground is cold and hard. For some this month is an especially lonely time. If you’re leading — leading your aging dad, school-weary kids, stressed workers — you’ve got to keep your eyes open and your head up. And…are you ready for the contradiction? The upside, the real good part?
It’s Christmas. It’s Hanukkah. It’s the festival of lights. It’s family gathering time, gift-giving, little-kids-wearing-pajama time! Charitable time. It’s New Years and new beginnings. It’s Auld Lang Syne where we celebrate good friends and forgotten loves, and all the richness of life that we’ve taken for granted. It’s a new governor and a fresh start. It’s a liberated governor and our family’s fresh start. Aren’t you eager to give thanks and make a new start?
I find myself overflowing with joyous anticipation. And so I’ve been watching what anticipation does to me and others. For one thing, anticipation itself is just luscious.* The anticipation can be better sometimes – and more long-lived – than the event itself. Anticipation gets us excited and able to tolerate the mundane and the challenges of life, because something unusually good is coming. Our awareness seems heightened. People who are anticipating something good happening are more likely to cooperate, to listen, and to give a break to others. The anticipation can be a little too high (just ask a 12th grade teacher how anticipation’s affecting their students’ achievement and focus in the Spring). But most of the time anticipation’s just so darned good. Every kid knows it. Every adult can remember and re-experience it.
So, here’s the question I’m pondering, for which I would love your genuine and practical answers: Can a leader legitimately build, use, stoke anticipation? Can you generate events or elevate events, in order to charge people’s batteries, create team rapport, shake the doldrums and uplift spirits – both as an end in itself and to increase productivity? (Did you notice, by the way, how I started you off with the bad, but teased you to anticipate the good? Did the anticipation hold you through my two paragraphs of darkness and woe? Did it work?)
As Jack, and many of my wonderful co-workers too, worry some about a new life, I’ll be watching how anticipation works and see if I can’t legitimately use it to encourage them along the way. I’m curious about your views and experience, as you
Lead with your best self!
* It’s also true that anticipation of something bad – a legal notice, a layoff, your girlfriend dropping you – is painful, too, well before the event happens (and even if it doesn’t). As Tom Petty sings, “the waiting is the hardest part.”