Sometimes the lessons we learn aren’t just the ones that are actually being taught. What we get out of them can go way beyond what was intended.

That happened to me last weekend, during one of the sessions at a “Lead Like Jesus” Reconnect in Chicago. The session was about leadership, but the lesson was about juggling.

Each of us was placed in one of four groups, based on our level of competence and enthusiasm for juggling. Then we were given a partner, a set of scarves, and some basic instructions. After taking turns juggling and offering suggestions and support to our partners, we moved on to different groups, depending on what we now perceived our level to be. Not everyone moved to a different group. I remained at the same level of competence – or rather, incompetence – that I started at. But I had fun trying, and also getting to know my partner in the exercise, who was someone I’d never met before.

The activity was a success in demonstrating how to assess competency levels, and the type of support needed for each one. But what taught me the most – about leadership and about life – was what happened at the end of the exercise. And I continued learning more about it long after the session was over.

As we started to turn in our scarves and return to our seats, the leader of the session told us that the scarves were ours to keep. I immediately turned to my partner in the exercise and said, “Let’s keep practicing after we leave. When we meet again next year, we’ll be in the top level of competence.” She laughed and agreed.

Later, in my hotel room, I spent a little more time practicing. I didn’t break a sweat, but I did get a little winded from the effort. I could feel the exertion, especially in my upper arms. That’s when I realized what a great exercise this would be for toning and strengthening an area that I don’t consider to be my best feature. I immediately adopted a new personal fitness mantra: “I’d rather juggle than jiggle.”

Talk about motivation! I don’t know yet whether I’ll be going to next year’s Reconnect, but I know that if I do, I’m going to be a star scarf juggler, and I’m going to have buff, toned upper arms. It’s actually unlikely that the scarf-juggling exercise will be a part of next year’s agenda, but that doesn’t matter to me. What matters are the results I know I’ll achieve by then because of it.

This may all sound silly and superficial, but there really is a noteworthy leadership principle at work here. Had the scarves been collected at the end of the session, I still would have gotten what I was supposed to out of it – an understanding of the different levels of development and support, and how to evaluate and integrate them effectively. But having the scarves to take home with me gave me the motivation to keep using them and improving my skill. And when I discovered an extra benefit to doing so, my motivation shot up even higher.

If we can translate that to the tasks we want or need others to do when we are in leadership positions, whether it’s at work or at home, in clubs or organizations, or in any relationship at all, think about how much more effective we can be! When people feel as if they’re being given a gift – rather than simply a tool they need in order to do their jobs or complete a task – and when they are motivated to set their own goals and to explore and discover additional potential benefits and results, everyone’s job becomes easier. People become more productive, and the environment becomes more enjoyable. And that makes for a powerful and successful relationship.

As I continue to juggle roles and responsibilities in the different areas of my life, I hope I’ll be able to remember the lessons I learned last weekend – the ones that were being taught, and the ones I learned in addition to those. Whether I am leading or following, speaking or listening, coaching or being coached, I’m going to look for more ways that I can share my gifts with others, and treasure the ones that others give to me. And what I’ll expect to see is greater success for all.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on May 1, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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