The Starfish Story

When I left PE teaching to take up my first counsellor position I was given a gift by a friend and colleague. This gift still sits pride of place in my office as a bit of a nudge and visual pep talk and reminder. It was a starfish in a small flax bag, that also contained a short story. That short story is one about a child on a beach making a difference, one star fish at a time. This is an adapted version of the original by Loren Eiseley.

The Starfish Story 2

This story can be interpreted to put across many different messages. For many daunting tasks and ‘to do’s’ can be put to one side due to procrastination or fear. This simple story illustrates the need and importance to break the seemingly insurmountable down into manageable pieces, and move forward one step at a time.

In counsellor land this may be that such a safe and supportive environment is provided that a client is able to deconstruct the big picture thinking and expectations, into bite size pieces that can be explored without the clutter of the ‘static noise’. This brings clarity which can bring positive movement, as if we get lost in the static noise and own the confusion that it brings we tend to stay put.

What may seem small and insignificant to you can be monumental to others. What may seem too huge and impossible to you, becomes possible if you concentrate on putting just one foot in front of the other, rather than getting caught up in how far away the destination is.

When it comes to the value of reaching out and helping someone, that really depends on the motivation that drives it. I have had the absolute honour of coming into contact with the most passionate and generous ‘helpers’ I can imagine as possible. It is not what or even how much they give and do, but the genuineness behind the action. When we do something because it’s good and we want to, with the only intended benefit being for the people we do it for, then it becomes a real gift with a heck of an impact. Yes, if it then makes you feel good as a byproduct then that can only be mother natures way of saying ‘top job’. Perhaps not so much if you are doing it to make yourself feel good and helping others is a byproduct. I believe this is the difference between presenting a connection, to engaging in an authentic and positive connection with others. You sure as heck can feel the difference, and you can be pretty sure they do to.

Monkey: Return to Sender

When someone told me I could not only read a whole book in an afternoon, but that it would be a professional life changer, I had to see for myself. So, I read it, ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ by Ken Blanchard. Awesome, on a number of levels that I’m sure will prove versatile in meeting the needs and expectation of most readers. For me, the principles continue to inform both my personal and professional lives, heck even my parenting.

Now, it wouldn’t take a genius to suggest that referring to your employees or colleagues as monkey’s may well not be the best move you can make. That is not at all the context or positioning of the book. The monkey refers to ‘the next move’, not a personal dig at all. The message is a proudly positive one of empowerment for both you and those around you all.

monkey off back

It is my, your, our task to deal to our own monkeys and not owning the stress, anxiety or pressures of someone elses’.

I was reminded only this morning of a simple example of this in my own parenting. Like many families our morning routine is filled with action, organised chaos and excitement at the prospect we could all leave the house on time with a skip in our step and nothing going amiss. Quite a while ago now we celebrated the proud landmark of our toddler getting himself dressed. With immense pride we would walk him to day care, the shops, well just about anywhere to share this occasion with everyone and anyone. I am aware that from the untrained (slightly judgmental) eye, this may in fact look more like shoddy (even careless) parenting, as his T-shirt would be back to front, shorts inside out and shoes facing outwards. Regardless, he dressed himself and that is awesome, high fives all round. The point; my son’s monkey (next move) was getting himself dressed. This was one less monkey for us which dramatically reduced the number of times we forgot our keys or lunch. So developmental benchmark achieved for our son and some breathing space for his mum and dad.

One morning we found ourselves dressing our son, it had developed over a couple of weeks, but due to our own monkeys, our patience had reduced, therefore it was just quicker for us to get him dressed. When I realised this and set his clothes out, expecting him to simply continue to complete a task he was more than capable of achieving, he didn’t, instead tears and the prone position became the default. And in the blink of an eye I realised that monkey had been masterfully returned to his parents. We had inadvertently not just added a money to our own back unnecessarily, but dis-empowered our young fella from feeling able and competent at dressing himself. To then get frustrated with him for not dressing himself with efficiency and the right way out and colour matched would be completely unfair.

The most powerful step towards changing this momentum was and is to stop, take the stunned monkey off your own shoulders before acknowledging and naming it. In this case, if it’s not your monkey, make sure the right person has it, if it’s yours, then act on it and don’t try to fob it off to some kind-hearted rescuer, or inpatient parent, boss or colleague.

If you take on other people’s monkeys you are disempowering them in the long-term. Reinforcing a dependence on you, which is a bit of a slap in the face to the other persons own resilience and capabilities.If you hand your own monkey onto others then be prepared for short-term gain , long term loss.

The challenge and yet rewarding part can be reorganising the monkeys, so own those that are yours and support others to own their own, the earlier the better. This has always got to be developmentally appropriate and within the competency of those involved in the first place, so getting my young one to day care is my monkey not his for example.

What does this look like for a manager?crazy office monkey

A team meeting where you leave with all the actions needed whilst your team are left twiddling their thumbs until you have actioned their ‘next step’. A lot of work and stress, and it’s not even your own. If each team member leaves with their own monkey then you celebrate their strengths and competence, and therefore their confidence to grow and make energetic strides forward. Everyone is a winner when done appropriately and well. As a manager your time can then be spent on innovation and growth, which is a big deal no matter where you work, whether at a school or as a company CEO.