Lessons from the Dragon Boat Part 2 – Tapping into Discretionary Energy

As published in SaskBusiness Magazine…

If you read last month’s column, you may recall the pain of my dragon boat experience, especially the emotional turmoil of confusion, frustration, and ultimately embarrassment. In any event, anyone who has been a member of a dysfunctional team can relate to the pain of frustration, as confusion unleashes a furious onslaught of physical collision and emotional turbulence.

In the dragon boat there is no room for solitude. No possibility of silence. No space to regroup. Friction is readily available, as teammates sit should to shoulder, and the volume and texture of each voice often bounces jaggedly through the ear canal of another! The worst of pain culminates to a climax of panic, followed by the deafening silence of embarrassment, while the grandstand masses look on.

Imagine that this was your situation. You are a paddler in the dragon boat. Half of the team did not show up for either of the two practices, and the boat is even now only two thirds full. The timing is off, the steering unsure, and you are losing ground. To facilitate improvement you lean in for a while. You ignore the screams coming from the individual muscle groupings along your spine, and torque harder against the resistance of the paddle in the water. Once again your paddle cracks sharply against the paddle of a teammate, and the vibration jars your spine enough to make the fillings in your clenched teeth define their borders. Short-lived, almost immediately you begin to feel a leak in your resolve, just a trickle at first, then a steady stream disappearing along with the ripples in the boat’s wake.

About then you can’t remember if the mission was fun or victory. Your sense of purpose lost, you begin to set back in your seat. “What’s the use in straining,” your mind suggests, “you’re not going to make it anyway; your contribution is scarcely noticed, and you are making little or no difference.”

You become so convinced that the voice you are hearing is one of reason that you contemplate laying the paddle across your lap. But then another voice suggests that you should not “rock the boat”, after all you are still a long way from shore, and swimming is not much of an option. The voice of reason agrees, and further suggests that you keep going through the motions so that you are not singled out or judged as unsupportive. If everyone sees you doing the same motion as the rest of the team it will be okay, after all, how can anyone accurately judge how much energy you are actually employing? As long as the paddle hits the water, and you pull it back along the side of the boat, what more can anyone ask for?

So that’s it. You resolve to expend the energy that you believe will get you by, and to hold any additional, discretionary, energy for whatever may follow.

How often do our workplaces resemble this dragon boat experience? We begin our work with a sense of excitement and anticipation, but as friction builds and chaos begins to reign, the pain of frustration rallies for support for an internal revolt.

Vision lost, and mission unclear, we lose our sense of connection to the big picture. Sensing that our contribution has gone unnoticed, and feeling that we make little or no difference, we begin to settle in and go through the motions. We employ only amount of energy that is necessary to keep us in the boat until we can get back to our real life and possibly at some point we can even move on to something else.

Your team can calibrate for a better future!  Clarify the mission, articulate the values, and maintain them through a set of relevant behavioral practices. With clear articulation in place, ensure that your leadership models them with integrity, for “it is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises, but only performance is reality.”—Harold S. Geneen

Integrity should never be confused with perfection. We will fail at times tom uphold our values. Accountability simply means that we will make right what we have not upheld. We will not justify or ignore that a betrayal of mission or value, for within these we have defined impact, viability and sustainability…a true fulfillment.

Integrity and accountability provide the atmosphere for trust and respect. Trust and respect facilitate engagement. Engagement facilitates the release of discretionary energy.

FULL-filled people…fulfilled mission!