As I sat by the Poudre River recently, the sun kept getting obscured by falling leaves. One single, small leaf would temporarily block the sun and I was momentarily in the shade.
I was sitting with my eyes closed when I first noticed this. And my initial reaction was sadness that the sun had disappeared and worry it wouldn't come back out (since I'm part cat, I love basking in the sun). After a few minutes, I realized what the cause of the shade was and I laughed at the metaphor it represented for a phenomena I've witnessed personally and professionally lately.
Compared to the sun, the leaf is tiny. Yet the distance of the sun from the earth compared to the closeness of the leaf gives it an oversized influence on the rays of light visible when in just the right position. It is temporary, yet in the moment can feel significant.
So many of the challenges and obstacles we encounter throughout our days are temporary. Yet they can feel so much bigger and more significant when we're in the thick of it. If we aren't aware, we might give a disproportionate amount of attention to a momentary setback, making it a bigger deal than it really is - like a leaf blocking the sun.
Earlier this year I worked with a leader whose team had been woefully understaffed. This, of course, was leading to a host of other issues such as processes not getting followed, concerns about burnout, and long-term goals being persistently shoved onto the backburner.
As we prepared for a Co-Creating Retreat Experience, I asked what, if anything, we needed to do to address the problems stemming from being understaffed.
She wisely intoned, "We don't need to spend too much time there because we are hiring and this won't be a problem much longer. I really want to spend the retreat refocusing my team on our strategic priorities, while also reinforcing our culture of being a fun place to work that honors and supports the whole person."
My client recognized that the problem of being understaffed, while frustrating, was temporary. Instead of us making a big deal about this setback on her team, we used the retreat as an opportunity to have fun, learning tools for talking about and prioritizing self-care, and evaluating + realigning with their strategic priorities.
This approach had a multitude of benefits. First, her team left the retreat feeling re-energized. Second, her team had a shared language and identified an experiment for supporting each other in taking time for self-care so everyone could thrive together. And lastly, as new people were brought onto the team, they were given a wholistic and empowering direction - their onboarding went beyond the day-to-day operations because they were equipped to tie things back to their strategic priorities in a meaningful way.
As leaders, it's important to notice, name and acknowledge the impacts of temporary setbacks. Doing so both validates and recognizes the needs, experiences and feelings of team members. At the same time, a leader must not over-inflate the problem by making it a bigger deal than it is. Instead, she must be mindful and aware of the big picture - recognizing that what they are working towards encapsulates so much more than a single struggle.
In other words, a leader recognizes the true proportions of the sun relative to the leaf and doesn't let the momentary shade cast serious doubt on accomplishing her vision.