Southern Hospitality: what can we learn from the south?

November 21, 2008 at 3:18 pm (change, Introspection, Leadership, Musings, Social Networking) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Yesterday I was sharing with some friends the struggle I’ve had over the last several months.  In a nutshell:  I can be more spiritual and more authentic in the company of my unchurched friends than I can when at church.  I talked to them about the moving cheese parable and how clarity in this arena has renewed my hope.

Now, as I’ve often discovered, once I obtain clarity and answers to life’s conundrums, people, lots of people, are quite willing to jump in and offer advice.  Where were these people when I was struggling (never mind that I probably wouldn’t have listened to them – BUT WHERE WERE THEY!!!?)?

Anyway, after some pop-psychobabble advice and Dr. Phil quotes, everyone left the conversation, except for one man.  In a kind way, a fatherly way, if you will, he told me he had concerns and has wanted to talk to me for a couple of months.  Most of what he initially shared were repeats of some of what I had shared earlier, but he was just getting warmed up.

Being a good’olsouthern-boy, he talked about how it has been hard living in the Northwest for the past few years.  “Y’all do things differently up here,” he offered.  Then he told me a story that represented Southern Hospitality, about getting to know folks, about building trust.

He talked to me ab out going to others and asking them for advice.  He recommended implementing everything others suggested – unless I had moral concerns.  “Humility is your friend,” he suggested; and I’m going to have to “eat a lot of crow.

I’ll have to admit that I was a little defensive and not really in the mood to receive advice.  I just wanted someone to share the celebration that I figured out that my cheese had been moved and now I had purpose again.  But as we talked, I began to see the wisdom of his words.  Some of them were reminders, some of them were new insights, and some of his suggestions were things I wasn’t doing – because of my self-sufficient pride.

I like my pride, thank you very much.  I don’t want to do things differently than I am, if you please?  I hate following the advice of people who live in a different era and have different priorities than me.  But as my friend and I talked, I recalled an incident that happened a long time ago, but is very similar to the situation I’m now in.

About 20 years ago, I was transferred from one work-site to another.  At the former site, we were a highly-motivated and successful team.  Daily we were doing more than other work-sites did in a month.  It was a fun environment and I was involved in a lot of autonomous, extra-curricular projects.  I was thriving in the creative freedom of the team.

The other worksite needed a senior person to fill a slot and I was selected for this unofficial role.  I was in the middle of a lot of projects which I took with me on this cross-county move.  Once I arrived, I found myself cut off, shut-down, and ostracized for my enthusiasm.  The site manager refused to let me keep my projects on site and other team-members were socially obnoxious to the creative outlets I’d undertaken.  It wasn’t long before I found myself in a very hostile environment and I didn’t really understand why.

Last night, as I talked to my Southern-gentleman friend, it came to me.  For the first time in two decades, I understood why I was under such pressure after that transfer.  I had gone from a team that rewarded competence, veractity, and initiative, to one that valued relationships over excellence.  I went from a team that valued production to one that was more of a good’ol boys network.

The site manager, in his own clumsy way, was trying to tell me that the projects I was working on were not a value in this new environment.  They just wanted me to hang out, drink coffee, tell stories, and fit in.  Well, I was young and driven, and even if the manager could have expressed it this clearly, I would have rejected it.  I would have been bored sitting around chewing the fat with the team.

As I talked with my friend last night, I realized that this is about trust.  There is value in chewing the fat; the purpose being to build trust.  And here I am, 20 years down the road and I’m still fighting that battle.  I just was transferred cross-country and I’m in a new team.

Before, I was the resident “big dog” responsible for making things happen.  We were successful at that too.  But here, though I have the big dog title, I’ve not yet established the trust and credibility to operate in that realm.  I’m going to have to talke some time to build relationships, trust, and respect.

This will be hard for me.  Though I value relationships, I’m not necessarily good at them.

However, one of my core values is to inspire great things through leadership and teamwork.  If I can learn to find where the new cheese supply is, and work together with others, who knows what we’ll be able to accomplish in the future?

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