My Life As a Reality Show Contestant

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Ropes Course “Survivor”

The hubs and I used to be big fans of the television show, Survivor. We’d often joke while watching, that if we were ever contestants on the show, we’d most certainly be voted off the island in the first episode. Not for lack of knowledge or skill to survive the elements on the hubs’ part. He’s physically fit and is a good leader. But his strong personality and inability to be deceitful or mask his distain for stupidity would make him the kind of cast member that other contestants, and probably viewers, love to hate on that show. He’d be gone for sure.

Same goes for me, minus the part about any appreciable knowledge, skill or physical fitness. I’d whine my way back to a hotel room before any real discomfort or hunger befell me. (Our combined forces would surely self-destruct on The Amazing Race.)

But The Apprentice seems to require a different skill set. I peeked at this program recently while channel surfing. Indeed, it’s one of those train-wreck programs that pit narcissistic personalities in power struggle situations. That draws viewers in. But it’s not the reason why I think I’d be more successful on this show than those involving feats of strength and a bikini body. In fact, after watching only one episode, I may be inspired to use the show’s premise as a bit of motivation in daily life.

Here’s why:

  • Strong leadership is rewarded instead of seen as a threat.
  • Tyrants and egomaniacs don’t necessarily rule the day. (Except for the show’s host, Donald Trump of course.)
  • Tasks are assigned instead of things being left up to individuals to determine what needs to be done.
  • There are time constraints. Procrastinators will fail.
  • It’s fairly obvious to other contestants and viewers when someone fails to complete a task or executes poorly.
  • It’s difficult to build secret alliances.
  • Teamwork and team building are useful concepts.
  • It’s not easy to fly under the radar or be a half-hearted participant.
  • Assuming responsibility for your mistakes is honored even if it means getting fired.

So the next time I find myself longing to lounge under a blanket and sulk about my long to-do list, I might imagine I’m a contestant on The Apprentice. Instead of fretting about a particular task, whether it’s meeting editorial deadlines, fundraising for the kid’s activities, organizing an event, grocery shopping for a dinner party, managing the finances or scheduling doctor’s appointments, I’ll aim to be a results oriented leader with a positive attitude. Cause that would make for better TV. Now if only I could arrange for hair and makeup before I get started…

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Keeping Quiet Won’t Kill You and Not All Failure is Bad

P1040164As an MBA student, I once found myself on a “ropes course” with a couple dozen other students from a leadership class. It’s been a long time, but as I recall, this outdoor adventure was supposed to teach us something about leadership styles. We were placed into groups of five or six and assigned specific tasks that involved overcoming obstacles in a forest, much like summer camp. The caveat was that those of us who had been identified as extroverted, thinking types on a popular personality profile were required to keep silent during the exercise unless specifically called upon for input. Instead of offering suggestions, we were supposed to be good listeners and let the more introverted, feeling types have greater opportunities to discuss the challenges and devise our plans for success. You can imagine how this played out…

As an extrovert who leans toward logical vs. magical thinking, within about 30 minutes, I wanted to kill myself and some of the other more “sensitive” folks. We stood at the base of an imposing wall in the woods for what seemed like eternity while nice people politely discussed possible ways that our team could collectively scale the barrier. I witnessed various unsuccessful attempts at boosting and human pyramid building and checked my watch. Tick tock. We were going to lose this challenge and I don’t like to lose.

What really galled me was that we had a U.S. Marine on our team. But he’d been identified as an extrovert and remained silent. I could not understand why team members weren’t asking for his advice. I assumed he’d done this kind of thing before and could easily lead us to victory. But, NO! Maybe the quiet types relished holding the mute button on the loud mouths.

Finally, after many failed slides down the wall like heartbreaking kids in gym class who need a hug, somebody asked the Marine for input. And I could have fainted dead away at his response. Something like, “You’re on the right track. Keep thinking it through.” What!? Had his crew cut nicked important grey matter? Was our class about to devolve into some CSI laboratory for science majors? Or maybe we were being videotaped for a psychology course on rage. None of the above. We made it over the wall and finished the course. I can’t remember who “won.”

A decade later, I’m beginning to understand the value of this exercise. My husband, God bless him, often requires extra time to analyze any given situation before making a decision. This includes ordering lunch at McDonald’s where the menu hasn’t changed in like 30 years! How does this require analysis? I take a deep breath and calmly chant my order: chicken nuggets, small fry, diet coke.

And our son, a rather shy introvert, will agree to most anything we say. To the point where I’m actually encouraging him to contradict me, to stand his ground, to speak up and defend his opinions because I worry he’ll be trampled by tyrants (ahem, opinionated extroverts) like me in the real world.

And as for that Marine and his comment, he displayed great wisdom. He realized something I didn’t– that he wasn’t on a battlefield that day. No lives were hanging in the balance and “winning” wasn’t the goal. I’ve come to understand the importance of repeated failure as an important learning device. And that leaders won’t be leaders for long if the team hates your guts. This means everyone must be heard and sometimes it takes longer for others to assemble and articulate their thoughts. And that’s okay.

But one thing I did understand back then and teach my kiddos every day, if an expert is available, ASK FOR HELP!

 

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Chicks I Dig

"Jane" by Sarah Dibbern

“Jane” by Sarah Dibbern

Recently at a community leadership breakfast, while noshing bananas and sipping coffee, I listened intently to the keynote speaker explain different leadership styles he’d encountered during his career. And how he’d tried to emulate some of what he’d observed, only to discover that being himself is the best way to lead.

I agree. We must be our true selves cause phony gets sniffed out, shown up and tossed aside. But it’s also important to acknowledge where parts of our best selves come from­– from those who’ve done it first and done it better. In my life, I’ve been blessed to encounter many leaders, women in particular, who by being themselves, have made me a better leader and a better person. So sit back, sip some coffee and have a care. Cause these chicks are awesome.

Mom: Of course everybody’s mom is amazing right? Well, not everybody’s. And if your mom wasn’t very amazing, I’m truly sorry. But try to capitalize on whatever your mom got right. There must be something. My mom is not a good cook and never volunteered for the PTA. But she did teach me independence and encouraged me to follow my dreams. She always believed I could do or be anything I set my mind to, and if she believed it, I believed it. Thanks Mom.

Terry: My aunt who taught me to chew with my mouth closed, to use proper titles when addressing people and to never leave the house without lipstick!

Tracie: A department manager for a global corporation where I once worked. Never threatened by my naïve propensity to speak my mind or go over anyone’s head in search of an answer, Tracie allowed me space to learn from my own mistakes. She never insisted on any one right way to get work done. She fostered a creative environment and often shifted the spotlight away from herself onto those who worked for and with her. She liked to say, “Growth and comfort do not reside together.”

Jane: A professional church worker who, in a male dominated vocation, has taught me that women need not to wait around for men to agree on a woman’s role or worth in the mission field. She balances a healthy respect for religious and cultural traditions with a hysterical irreverence toward oppressive or graceless personalities.

Donna and Debbie: Writer/Editors who’ve opened my eyes to new opportunities and encouraged me to be fearless. Generous with time, talent and praise, they are balm for my insecurity as a writer.

Laura: An editor with the diplomacy of a United Nations peacekeeper. In the creative world of writing, this patient woman never utters public negativity about anyone or their work. But she doesn’t excuse shotty writing and offers constructive feedback that has made me a better writer and editor. She also doesn’t burn bridges and has taught me the value of occasionally keeping my big mouth shut.

Jennifer: The first of my peers to have children, this woman was made to be a mother. My kids came a few years after hers, and with no prior experience with infants, I probably would have parented much differently had I not observed Jennifer’s relaxed and easygoing style. She knows what she believes and parents accordingly, with nary a care for the nattering naybobs that drive many mothers to agonizing self-doubt. A mom who seems to truly relish the role.

I could go on but I’ll stop and encourage you to ponder those who’ve made a significant impression on you. Who is your Tracie, Jane or Jennifer and how will you honor them by becoming an impactful leader in someone else’s life?

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