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Posted by on Jan 20, 2011

Yes, Miracles Really Do Happen, and I Have the Proof (and 5 Witnesses)

Many people are skeptical of miracles. They think they know “how things are,” and that they have a good grip on reality. They have little truck with the possibility of an event that would defy all expectations.

All I can say in response to this nonsense is that I saw a miracle yesterday, and I’d like to describe it to you.

In order to understand this miracle, we first need a little background.

To localize it, think of someone you know who is really stuck in his or her ways. This is a person who has been doing the same thing over and over for years, maybe decades, and you see no prospect of change.

(Of course, this person isn’t you.)

When you think of this person, you probably have a whole set of beliefs and opinions around the potential for change. Think of the following stock statements that you have already heard:

* “He/she will never change.”

* “That’s just the way he/she is.”

* “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

* “Why go to training? Nothing will change.”

The list goes on. Implicit in each of the statements is an imbedded notion that it would be a miracle if this person woke up one day, came in to work, and did something really different.

As soon as we confuse our pre-conceived notions, even assumptions, with reality, then we are off the hook for trying to help in any way. Our internal resistance to providing feedback to others, our failure to provide coaching when it may be needed, our fear of broaching a difficult issue is often defended on the grounds that “nothing’s going to change, anyway. It would be a miracle.”

Sorry to tell, but this view is wrong, and miracles happen. Here’s what I saw:

The meeting was called to discuss planning for an enormous training event starting in a few months. The person in charge of the whole event, and the team, had already been through a couple these events Predictably, lessons had been learned.

One of these was that the project manager was often needed in three places at once. Running here and there, with a cell phone glued to her ear, she put out fires, answered questions, handled problems and kept the client happy.

Now, being in three places at once really is a miracle, and I’m not advocating trying it.

As the meeting opened to prepare for the next conference, I observed something happen in the project manager. I could tell there was some hesitance, even discomfort. But she plunged ahead. She said, in effect, that she had learned a lot in the last conferences, and probably the biggest realization she had come to was that she had to delegate more. Given the need for her to be available to the client, she wanted to ask each of us to take greater responsibility for our areas of focus, to really “own” those from start to finish, letting her know if we needed help.

Some insight into the project manager: I have noticed in working with her over the years that relationships and harmony are very important to her. She would prefer to not upset people, and for everyone to get along.

For her to ask others to do more, she was taking a risk. After all, in many project teams, the load-balancing of work can be a delicate or explosive issue. Particularly if relationships are not positive, conflict can result as work is moved “from one plate to another.” As works demands accelerate pretty much everywhere, this is a real issue.

I looked around the room as the project manager made her request and saw instant acceptance. My sense was that not only did the team intellectually understand the reality the project manager was presenting, they also felt connected her in a constructive working relationship. There were “yeses” all around, and we moved on with a new understanding and operating rules.

For everyone who says people can’t change, I submit exhibit A. I watched someone take a new step, take a risk, and develop a capability in the process. She really transitioned into a project executive function in that move. I suspect that having taken this step, she will be a little more comfortable next time to make a request when it needs to be made.

I talked with the project manager afterwards and shared my own perspective of what had happened. She agreed with the interpretation, and said she would not have been able to make this request a year ago. Working with a coach had made the difference for her.

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