In a powerful scene from the movie Gandhi, portrayed by Ben Kingsley, he asks his wife Kasturba, played by Rohin Hattanghadhi, to clean the ashram’s latrine upon the arrival of guests. When she hesitates, citing the task beneath her, Gandhi urges her to approach it joyfully, emphasizing the essence of equality in his mission.
I’ve been thinking about this approach to my work and play. I always have better times when I jump in and fully appreciate the opportunity to do the work. It’s easy with the things we love to do but more challenging with those we don’t. I’m reminding myself to approach every task with appreciation and enjoyment.
Recently, a client leader faced the challenging task of reprimanding an employee. Their performance was subpar, and their disengagement was evident. Dreading the conversation for weeks, he expressed his reluctance. As we talked, he kept shaking his head. “Let’s do it with joy,” I suggested to him. His expression told me he was about to reprimand me.
Intrigued, he asked how to inject joy into such a difficult task. Undertaking this with more joy means owning and executing the process with respect, empathy, and support for the employee and himself. I suggested several ways he could make even this most distasteful experience more pleasant for both parties.
- Reframe perspective: There was no way this task would be easy, but his experience told him this employee would benefit from his counsel.
- Set a positive intention: I asked him to consider why this was important and that it would serve the employee and the company. Beginning with a positive framework solidified whether this was the correct action.
- A gift: This employee had performed well in the past, and while he was missing the mark with his new projects, the manager’s ideas and commitment to his growth would serve the employee in a manner that would help him develop professionally.
- Growth mindset: He and the employee could grow from the many new learnings from this experience. For him, it strengthens empathy, communication, and courage; for the employee, it addresses adversity, builds resilience, and develops new technical skills.
- Self-compassion: My client struggled with this decision, questioning whether he was doing the right thing and how this would impact his employee’s future. I asked him to remember tough decisions from the past and how they usually worked out for all parties. He was a good decision-maker, and being more compassionate to himself would help make the process smoother and more successful.
My client later shared that, armed with this new mindset, he felt more connected with the employee and appreciated his skill set. As he navigated the delicate balance of criticism and encouragement, he could see the employee’s reactions shift from defensiveness to listening. Over the next several weeks, the employee embraced his new opportunity and saw this feedback as his manager’s honest effort at support and assistance. It was, in fact, a gift.
My client later reflected on this new way of seeing work not as a tactic for specific tasks but as a way of looking at his world and work. A “simple resilience strategy,” he told me, that made a big difference in his life.
© Richard Citrin 2023