Getting Down & Dirty to Get Stuff Done

The other night, at sunset, I strapped my baby to my chest and went for a quick walk. On the way, we stopped for a swing at the park and then went down to the sand at the beach. After about 5 mins, we came across where the tide was so far in that we either had to wade through the water or turn back. Snap decision- wade through. Result= sandy, soggy runners. It took a week for my runners to dry out. Had we not waded through though, we might have missed the stunning sunset over the water with the fingers of God stretching through the cloud. It was beautiful to share that with him.

Step back 20 years and I was a 19 year old training to be an officer in the Army Reserves. Over the course of 18 months, I encountered many a face-plant, leeches, sopping wet everything, scorpions, spiders, prickles, mud, dust, fire ants, rocks, plenty of bruises and rashes… the list goes on! On occasions, I woke up dripping with sweat and on other occasions I woke up with frost on my face. After a training course, it took weeks for the bruises to fade and to get the embedded prickles out of my hands. Nevertheless, had I not persevered through these times, I might have missed the enduring friendships that grew out of those moments.

Often when I meet a client, whether for the first time or after many meetings, I find myself asking what it is he/she really wants. Do they really want what’s needed or are they just after a morale boost? It’s certainly less confronting to take the easy road and give everyone a morale boost and a team-building t-shirt, even if it means going back the way we’ve come. It’s less confronting for me to rock up to an organisation, put on a show, make everyone feel joyous and then swoop out without a second thought. And although that feels uplifting at the time, it often leaves one feeling empty not long after (I’ve had this dilemma lately whilst looking for a church). No, that’s not what people really want.

My hunch is that people want wade through the slushy sand, even if that means they’ll get soggy sneakers or leeches or perhaps even a nasty bite. Why? Because they might just see a spectacular sunset or make an enduring friendship.

What might the “slushy sand” be, you ask? It’s the messy parts of our organisation; the fierce conversations that we’re not having, the lack of vision, the failed prototypes, the misread communications, the poor results, the rough feedback, and the gaps between what is and what is yet to come.

Perhaps, after reading this, you’ve come to the same conclusion I have. People don’t want easy and breezy. They want to get dirty in the real stuff, the unsaid stuff and the ‘elephant in the room’ stuff. They want to wade through the slushy sand in community, to walk beside others and pivot together if needed.

With this in mind, how might you get down and dirty with your people? How will you walk beside them through tricky times? What strategies will you use to navigate the puddles and the flowing rivers? And then, as you stand in community, how might you celebrate the beautiful rainbow at the end?