Lessons learned on a rainy night

I’m in Redmond Washington, the ground is wet and everything is green, green, green. The rain poured onto my bald head and found its way down my neck last night. It was only a short walk to where I went to watch the sports highlights and settle into a meal after a flight and a cab ride to the hotel. As I stepped out of the pouring rain I found a cheerful waitress that settled me into a seat and offered me a beverage.

It was warm and fairly empty… and I guess that was part of the problem. I had just begun to sip my drink when I was approached and then verbally accosted by a patron seeking an audience for a story he had told night after night in that same spot. I was new blood and he needed to share it again.

He reached out and rubbed my wet head, got into my face about the atrocities he had committed and went on at length shouting vulgarities.

There’s a line we all have I suppose. I hesitated to figure out the mental capacity of this person and what was fair to say or do in the circumstance all the while coming to grips with what I was willing to tolerate. I wasn’t the native and so chose to ask the person to leave so that I could have my meal in peace. He was about to become agitated and I prepared myself to respond.

The waitress was the only individual with any presence in the room. She walked over sensing that I had had enough. She addressed the man directly, gave him a choice and ushered him to a stool on the far side of the room. For the duration of my time there, she proceeded to be the buffer between the individual and the rest of the patrons. She jockeyed her work and her directives to ensure the needs of everyone in the place were met, all the while respectfully demanding that our friend left folks alone. Really, it was very impressive.

So how does this tie into leadership or my work in educational technology?

Lesson 1

Never underestimate people – that waitress surprised me. She was a tiny, pretty young girl. And was the most powerful person in the room. Don’t get me wrong… it is never my assumption that beautiful women are not powerful. I’ve been surrounded by them my whole life and continue to respect their work. The surprise was more related to how this tiny girl stood up to this somewhat deranged, larger man. She was assertive, calm and respectful AND she made sure he knew his options and that she wasn’t going to accept any variance.

Lesson 2

Be Tolerant. The gentleman had a story. It was hard to tell if it was true or not. He wasn’t the type of rational person I am used to dealing with… and so it’s a new lesson for me. That young lady modelled the behaviour that I needed to duplicate. I also know I’ve readjusted my own boundaries and will be better prepared for the next time a similar occurrence takes place. And therein lies the rub – I’m surrounded by supportive positive people almost all of the time. My own experience sets up expectations about how people should act. This guy was a surprise and I didn’t even know what to do with it.

At the same time, our friend needed some tolerance. A different person might have been pretty aggressive and the consequences would have formed a different outcome. In my training with Crucial Conversations people respond in two ways when they don’t feel safe – flight or fight. What I knew was I didn’t want an altercation. I just wanted a cold beverage and to watch the sports highlights. And this guy just needed an audience… his methods about getting one weren’t well-received but he had a story and got to this point in his life for reasons far beyond my scope of understanding. Being tolerant was probably the best thing I could have done.

Lesson 3

Be prepared – I am in/near Seattle – it’s going to rain… Sometimes, for someone supposedly so smart, I’m not very bright. I had a toque in the trunk when I left Calgary. It would have kept my head dry.

We get busy in this life. So busy that sometimes we’re not as prepared as we would like to be. As leaders, we need to give ourselves permission to prepare. As I write this, I know my work is leading me to places I haven’t been before, with audiences I haven’t seen and materials I don’t understand. I’ve just scheduled some time to prepare for those circumstances.

Of course, we can’t be prepared for everything, but we can prepare for what we know.

Right now the sun is breaking out of the clouds. I’m off to the Microsoft Campus to do some of that preparation. Bruce Dixon and others interested in the strategic deployment of learning technologies are gathering together to immerse ourselves in the research and best practices to create environments for kids that allow them to leverage technology to improve their learning. The research is international in scope and the exemplars of best practice have been uncovered. The materials include a process that can be adapted and augmented to engage with others related to this topic. It’s going to be a great few days.

To the gentleman that rubbed my wet bald head – thanks for the gift, you provided leading to this reflection. To the rest of you – never underestimate others, be tolerant and be prepared 🙂

Happy Holidays to all of you.