#20 – It’s ok to be “Good Enough”

This is #20 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one I keep going back to.


The following passage is from an article by Jennifer Kunst in which she provides a compelling interpretation of Donald Winnicott’s theory of the “good enough mother.” As you read it I invite you to do so in a way that allows it to speak to the identity with which you most associate. As needed, replace “mother” with father, boss, leader, teacher, etc.

“What I like about Winnicott’s picture of the good enough mother is that she is a three-dimensional human being. She is a mother under pressure and strain. She is full of ambivalence about being a mother. She is both selfless and self-interested. She turns toward her child and turns away from him. She is capable of great dedication yet she is also prone to resentment. Winnicott even dares to say that the good enough mother loves her child but also has room to hate him. She is not boundless. She is real.”

I cannot read this without being flooded with empathy for all of us who struggle with the pressure to be certain, to be right, to be perfect. We would be better off – far better off – if we were able to collectively let go of the myths that keep us small in favor of a more accurate accounting of the common humanity that serves to enlarge and enliven us.

According to Winnicott’s theory, “The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure” (Winnicott, 1953).

The “good enough mother” creates enough distance from her child, thoughtfully and over time, to allow the child to find its own way. By doing so she creates the conditions for differentiation and independence and problem solving skills and resilience. She creates the conditions in which a child can learn how to be among those who thrive in the face of uncertainty, making meaningful contributions to society squarely in the face of the unknown.

It must be for this reason that James Michener once wrote: “I have recently decided that the constructive work of the world is done by an appallingly small percentage of the population….Those men and women who do have the energy to form new constructs and new ways to implement them must do the work of many. I believe it to be an honorable aspiration to want to be among the creators.”

As mother, father, boss, leader or teacher you have acted on your aspiration to be “among the creators” and you are striving to have lasting impact in the face of challenges and changes too numerous to mention. Your contribution to those you serve, then, will best be measured by the ability you cultivate in them to stand in the midst of uncertainty on their own two feet. Propping them up or protecting them from failure only serves to ensure that they will one day join the large percentage Michener describes instead of being a vital force in the “constructive work of the world.”

“Good enough” is much more than good enough. It is how we equip those we love and those we serve to be a force for good in the world.


assorted color great board decor lot

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Set Them Free

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.

~ Hafiz


Today, will you build more cages or drop more keys?

The “small” leader needs to control because he feels out of control. He is small because he does not trust himself which means he cannot trust others. He is small because change frightens him, imagination freezes him, possibility unnerves him. He is small because what he cannot imagine for himself he must disallow for others.

The “sage” is a towering figure not because of stature but because of presence. His equanimity comes from learning to see control as an easy, costly fantasy. He trusts himself because he knows himself; he has done the work. And by doing the work he has developed the capacity to accept the unfinished in others. He is unfinished as well.

The sage welcomes change, because it is inevitable. Imagination is his wellspring of possibility, energizing both mind and heart. He knows that he is a catalyst for the emergence of these qualities in others.

Their rowdiness does not unsettle him; it’s what makes them beautiful. And he takes seriously his responsibility to unlock it because otherwise it will die.

The sage is the very best of who we can be.


rusted grey padlock in selective focus photography

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It Can Be Done Another Way

I find it easy sometimes to get stuck on how something should be done versus how something can be done. Preferences for certain actions can blind us to the fact that a chosen behavior is indeed preferential and not the only option.

We have some large palm trees in our front yard and occasionally a frond will snap and fall to the ground. These can be ten feet long and very heavy which means they need to be cut up to fit in our green waste can. I have a great hand saw that is perfect for the job while also providing a decent workout!

On one occasion I asked my son to do the cutting and he proceeded to plug-in an electric saw – not one intended for this kind of job – and carved up the branch without breaking a sweat. I remember saying, “That’s not how you do it! You’re supposed to use the hand saw.”

He gave me his best “Are you kidding me?” look with a hint of “Did you want this done or did you want this done your way?” I don’t remember exactly but I probably doubled-down with something like, “But that’s what the hand saw is for, not to mention it’s good exercise.”

That went about as well as you’d expect.

The fact is that he got the job done in a perfectly acceptable way and in a manner that was gratifying to him. Regardless of how I feel about it, that should be enough.

The leadership lesson in this is that if you hire highly qualified people and pay them highly qualified salaries you need to provide them the autonomy they need to do what you hired them to do. Creative and capable people will express themselves beautifully in the right conditions, and those conditions must always include the freedom to make their mark, to test ideas, to share their experience and to solve problems.

Breaking a sweat can be gratifying but it’s hardly ever proof of the best way to do the work.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Waiting to be asked

The line of students was snaking from the front of the room, up the main aisle and out the back door.

I wondered what they were all sticking around for. I was confused.

Turns out, they were patiently waiting to sign a piece of paper – the one piece of paper I had provided – to indicate that they had participated in class that night. It’s an honor system thing, an experiment.

When I saw the line – so many of them – and that single pad of paper they were inching towards – I shooed them out of class, promising full credit for everyone and a better process next week.

That evening I sent a note to the class asking for their help. It said, “My idea was good but the execution was lousy. Sorry about that. I want to find a better way so please send me your ideas.”

And a number of thoughtful and creative responses came my way, responses that will be put into action this week. And do you know why? First, because it’s not their first rodeo. And second, because they are thoughtful and creative people.

Something tells me that this goes for support staff, service agents, sales reps, technicians, installers, packers, shippers, processors, recruiters, analysts, coordinators, planners, etc.

Most people are thoughtful and creative. Most people want to be helpful.

And most people are waiting to be asked.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

Human. Resources.

“Human”

Merriam-Webster definition #3-b:  representative of or susceptible to the sympathies and frailties of human nature (human kindness; human weakness).

“Resources”

Merriam-Webster definition #1-c a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life; and #1-e a source of information or expertise.

“Human Resources”

Merriam-Webster definition #1: personnel.

What? Personnel?

How did we get from words like “sympathies” and “frailties” (read tenderness, vulnerability, transparency…as in the real human experience) and “phenomenon,” “quality of life” and “sources of information and expertise” to personnel, a scraped from the bottom of the barrel word that fails in every way to describe who we are and what we’re made of?

It is, regrettably, an accurate characterization of the state of the “modern,” and so often dehumanizing, organization.

Let’s do better than that. Here’s a new definition for your consideration:

Human Resources (plural noun): (1) those living, breathing, dynamic and creative persons who cherish nothing more than to come together in support of a cause worth fighting for; (2) Any number of individual persons who collaborate with dignity, respect, safety and in a spirit of service to breathe life into an enterprise that is worthy of their presence. 


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.