My son is back home for his summer break and we are overjoyed. The empty nest has been filled again, for a while at least. Thanks to the jetlag, while the boy is fast asleep, I squeeze in a few minutes to squeeze out my learning for the week. Something feels different this visit. Maybe the teenager is gone and a young man has returned in his place? Or maybe I have found a way to fill the gaping hole that he left, and my life has entered a new phase? I guess it could be a bit of both. Whatever it is, something has shifted. Let me try and make some sense of what that change is all about.
My favourite spot in the house is my lazyboy chair. It is a beautiful orange lounger that my wife gave me as a birthday gift a few years ago. I am normally very possessive about it and always want the prime position when we settle in to watch some television. During this visit, I find myself quite happy (ok to be truthful it’s more like quite willing) to allow him the enjoyment of that lovely chair. I don’t feel the need to play the “I’m the dad so listen to me” card. On his last visit, I remember this dynamic to be different. He knows how much I enjoy that chair, so there are times when he leaves it for me as well. The interesting thing is that I don’t have to ask. We are sharing the chair this visit.
The bedtime and bath time showdown. There are minor disagreements between parent and son when it comes to what time he should sleep and when he should have a bath. Till we realise that at 20 he is quite capable of making these decisions on his own. He is in charge of the controls now and our intervention on these topics is not entertained. Our parent status has to reorient itself to now being friend, well-wisher, counselor, coach and ATM machine as the need arises.
As I reflect on my work journey, I see this dynamic playing out there as well. When a new team member enters the equation, something shifts in the energy of the organisation. A seat or a cabin has to be found to physically accommodate the new entrant. Who is getting displaced? How does that impact the team? Roles and responsibilities sometimes need to be realigned. Space needs to be made to accommodate the new entrant.
The other parallel I find between my sons’ departure and reentry into our lives is that space gets filled very quickly. The old saying that “nobody is indispensable” is so very apparent in the work world. In days if not weeks, the vacuum of a departure gets filled and the show goes on. This does not mean the person is not missed. Nor does it mean that they are not remembered. It just means that the business of living life requires one to find a way to fill the space and move on.
Similarly, when a person comes back or a new person enters the equation, there is a phase when everyone needs to get used to the idea of this change. Learning how to do this with grace and accepting the fact that things don’t always go back to the way they were is a really important realisation. Allowing for the entry and finding a way to enjoy the change in the way the space is now shared, is what I think is the key to everyone’s success.
I need to learn how to give people space to be themselves. They need to learn how to allow me the same luxury. It is less about the role “parent” and “child” or “leader” and “team member” and more about how we connect with each other. It’s about finding ways to enjoy quality time together, share meaningful experiences and learn about each other’s experiences. It’s about how both contribute to making the organisation a stronger and better place. Learning how to work with each other requires us to make space for each other. This starts with the physical space, but more importantly, it’s the mental space that matters. Working hard to create a psychologically safe space, where everyone can be their best and unique selves is the best gift we can give our families and our teams. I remain committed to learning how to make space and hold space for others in my life. I encourage each on of you to do the same, the world will be a better place if we all do our bit.
The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.