It’s Not the Cynic Who Counts

I want to start off this post with a very open admission – yes, the title to this blog post is meant to invoke the famous Teddy Roosevelt speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910… the one that tends to be described as “The Man in the Arena”. Now that we’ve got that properly settled, let’s move on.

I’m a little nerdy when it comes to the topic of the culture of organizations, groups and teams.  I’ve always liked being part of teams and found tremendous amounts of energy and purpose from being part of something larger than myself striving towards a common goal.  The magic of uniting with like-minded folks and trying to figure out how each of our unique talents, experience and viewpoints can contribute to that goal is endlessly fascinating to me.  I’ve only come to appreciate that in a very keen sense the last several years.  It explains my current role in “Employee Experience” where I work and the masters degree in applied psychology I am oh-so-close to completing with the University of Southern California.

One thing that’s caught my attention of late is what it takes to make changes in these group environments.  Without delving too deeply into all the nuances and psychological underpinnings of change management, there’s one spot that has been on my mind: resistance.  It’s one of the inevitables of seeking change because… well… we as humans don’t always cozy up to change real quickly.  Hell, I know I don’t.

But in group change dynamics, the resistance can come in the form of not just skepticism, but genuine cynicism.  “Oh look at you… thinking you’ll fix all this.  That’s adorable.  Let me spoil the ending since I’ve seen this movie a few hundred times before at this place – ain’t gonna work.  But hey, good luck with your fun.”  Well I’m fired up to conquer the world now – how about you? *insert highly-vexed eyeroll emoji*

Now, the people who take this view could actually have very valid and well-earned cynicism – maybe they have seen flavor-of-the-month change efforts come and go, each time brought forward through some new leader who wants to make his or her stamp on their organization, but who really wasn’t committed to making the change… just to the appearance of it.  It’s hard to criticize anyone for getting tired of seeing fake change that smacks of insincerity.  I get it.  And in any smart change effort, the resistors and cynics do need to be accounted for in making an earnest change.

Here is my caution in all of this and the point of this entire post: planning for people who aren’t on board with making a change is smart, but they aren’t the ones who will count, especially when they are likely a vocal minority.  If you have a good idea, but discount it or even totally scale it back because of the cynics, you’re likely missing out on creating a rallying point to the far larger (but much quieter) majority that is looking for someone to step forward to advocate zealously for much-needed change.  I’ve seen this happen time and time again in my career on scales both small and vast.

Don’t water down your ideas or pull your punches because of the negative few.  They may have valid perspective, but they aren’t worth caving your efforts over.  The many who stay silent may very well be doing so because they have hope, but are looking for that bold soul to step forward as the catalyst.  And maybe that catalyst is you.

Fighting For A Noble Purpose… Or Just A Sucker?

This past Sunday marked the end of the outdoor soccer season for me with the next season not starting until the week after Labor Day in September.  Over the past… hmm… 5 or 6 years I have been the captain of this particular merry band of soccer players.  My ascension to this role was not one borne out of a brilliant level of play or a transcendent mind for soccer strategy.  Ohhh no… it was all about organization.  Pretty inspirational, right?

When I first joined the team, I was just doing my best to play my best and not embarrass myself horribly.  I only picked up soccer in earnest around age 30 and that was comprised of playing indoor with some co-workers.  The move to outdoor when a friend’s team needed someone felt more official.  I mean, hell… that’s real soccer.  No walls to bail you out when you just kick the bejeezus out of a ball instead of laying down a crisp pass directly to the feet of your streaking midfielder.

Well, as one of our weekend games approached, I noticed a change in the schedule on the league Web site and promptly sent a note to the team to let them know.  Simple stuff.  I get to the field that Sunday and the current captain takes me aside and says,”Dude… that was a GREAT e-mail… do you want to be the captain in the Fall?”  I cannot even imagine the look that crossed my face at that point.  Me?  Captain of a soccer team?  I guess my expression of blank horror seemed to suggest a yes and then the words just fell out of my mouth of, “Sure… why not.”

Over these past few years, the role of captain has had its ups and downs.  Overall it has been a positive for sure.  My team is a great bunch and I love them all to pieces.  I feel very fortunate to be a part of this squad, let alone be their captain.

But here’s the thing… honestly?  Being captain is just not fun.  It’s a hassle.  You get to go to the league meetings which can be fine (I give a ton of credit to our league board members for all they do), but often there is an inordinate amount of debate about items that just don’t matter.  I want to get in, chat about a few things, pay for the season and get the hell out as fast as possible.  Then there is the matter of chasing your friends for money.  I can assure you that is decidedly less than good times.  Add to that making sure everyone shows up to games on Sunday mornings which usually involves multiple text messages the morning of the game to give directions, tell people what jersey colors to wear, etc.  To top it all off, trying to be the leader can be a no-win situation too.  If I am too quiet, I get people on me for not speaking up.  When I yell, I get told to shut up.  It’s really a lot of fun.

Now before this entire post to degrades into a complete diatribe of crying and moaning by me, let’s put this all back into context for a moment.  The fact I am still healthy enough to play competitive soccer with a great group of friends on Sunday morning is pretty awesome.  Period.  I know I’ve got it pretty good.

My point is simply this: being the captain of the team is just a pretty good example of how I find myself doing the least wanted job or role because no one else wants to and I tend to be eager to please.  Sometimes I get a lot of satisfaction out of this.  To me, it can be a mark of character to get in, take on the tough task that no one else wants and do it well.  I think that can be a mark of integrity.

I feel your pain, Captain.

What I am struggling a bit with is my tendency to take on things that I know I am not going to like (or even continuing with something I am really not liking) because I convince myself either no one else will do it or no one else will do it right.  It’s an odd kind of mindset: it’s both a combination of being a bit egotistical (“Well I obviously need to do it because NO ONE else will do it right.”) and a bit of an enabler (if I keep stepping up to do these things, no one else will ever feel like they need to).

At some level, we all need to do things we don’t like.  That’s a given and something in life to be accepted.  But what about beyond that?  How does one properly keep the balance between taking things on that might be less-than-joy-inducing, but that are important/needed to do and you own personal self-interest?  I can say from my own standpoint that it’s tough because I will always lean toward taking it on and then feeling like pulling out a Jean-Luc Picard facepalm when I realize, “Good Lord… what have I gotten myself into again?”

In the end, I think it’s a matter of finding your own sweet spot on the continuum of importance.  You will need to and probably should take on those things that either you are best-suited for or that are just more important, even if they are not something to make you fire up a happy dance while doing.  The other stuff?  Sometimes you just need to let it go and get comfortable with the simple “No thanks.”

So where does being a soccer captain fall for me?  I honestly am not sure.  I do love my team, but this past year was a tough one for me personally.  I know it’s for fun and all… but still… kind of a bleah session and I put a big chunk of the blame on me (since that’s what captains must do).  I will likely be back in this role in the Fall, but it’s also getting close to some young buck to step up and inject some fresh blood into things.

Although I would feel bad for anyone who becomes captain after me.  I mean, if nothing else… they are not going to top my handsomeness.  For real.

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