Life's Little Instruction Book
Many years ago I happened upon a lovely gem of a book that was written by a dad when his son, Adam, went off to college. Called “Life’s Little Instruction Book“, it contains such memorable, honest and accurate advice as: “never turn down a breath mint when offered” and “before taking a long trip, fill your tank and empty your bladder.”
It is a joyful book packed full of hard won wisdom shared by a Dad to a son he loved very much. But, I shall be honest, it’s been a while since I last looked at it. Yet an encounter with an angry golfer this weekend suddenly reminded of why it is so good.
I shall explain….
I am lucky enough to live in a village near Cleeve Hill; the highest point in the Cotswolds. The hill is a lovely place to go running; on a clear day as you can look down over Cheltenham as well as over the River Severn and down into Wales. It is a beautiful spot that is enjoyed by runners, walkers and horse-riders alike. It also happens to have an 18-hole golf course pretty near the top too.
For us non-golfers, its not always clear where the tees & the holes are in relation to one another. Plus of course golf balls don’t always land where the person hit them intended… So, as you can imagine, keeping an eye out for flying balls is part and parcel of running or walking up there...
On Saturday I was there, running with a lovely group of ladies, when out of the blue we heard a voice bark “DON’T RUN THERE, DON’T RUN THERE”. We stopped turned around and there was a gentleman, golf club waving in his hand, repeatedly shouting “DON’T RUN THERE!”
By now he was starting to sound very agitated, whilst we were a bit like the proverbial bunnies in the headlights; unintentionally finding ourselves the focus of this gentleman’s ire. Feeling a little bit non-plussed to have a lovely morning spoilt this way but not wanting to make things worse, I simply asked “which way do you want us to go instead?” To which he pointed us in the direction he wanted us to go so that he could hit his golf ball without a group of ladies being under its trajectory and we could enjoy finishing our run.
As I reflected upon the events later, I was reminded by the difference between this gentleman’s approach of shouting at us for (as he saw it) getting it wrong and the Dad in Life’s Little Instruction book whose approach was to give positive advice and guidance about how to behave.
It is a trap that it is very easy for anyone in a position of influence or authority to fall into; to focus on what people are doing wrong, rather than focusing on what they need to do to get it right.
You can argue that at least our angry golfer at least gave us feedback (his alternatives were, after all, hitting a ball without regard to our safety or waiting for us to pass and feeling immense personal anger that his progress was been impeded by the 'stupidity' of others).
But in deciding to angrily say what he believed we were doing was wrong, he forgot to tell is was what 'good' looked like. When we didn't instinctively know what he wanted of us, he allowed himself to get even crosser and think we were consciously trying to do the wrong thing.
Yet I would put some serious money that none of the hundred or so people on the hill on Saturday went there with the intention of upsetting someone. The same is true at work; very few of us ever go into work intending to make mistake or put in a poor performance. Yet it is all too easy to become irritated with people we interact with at work without giving them the opportunity to address the issue.
That is what constructive, well intentioned, feedback is all about. It's about identifying the issue, explaining the impact and agreeing what will happen going forward.
In the case of our frustrated golfer, instead of shouting at us what not to do, how much better all round (pun intended) if he'd said "Ladies, wait! If you go down that path you might get hit by a ball. This one (pointing in the direction) is much safer. Enjoy your run!")
This is what the author of Life's Little Instruction Book knew instinctively; by suggesting positive courses of action, his son was far more likely to listen to him than if all he did was tell him that he was making mistakes.
So I shall leave you with one final piece of wisdom from Life’s Little Instruction Book that, to me, encapsulate a key part of being a great employee, regardless of our job role:
“Everyone loves praise. Look hard for ways to give it to them.”
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