Unfinished Drinks

Leadership Is About Letting Go, Not Reeling In

They’re everywhere.

Menacing, mocking, unflinching. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They can spill, they can regenerate, they can infect, they can consume.

My house, nay my marriage, has been overrun by unfinished cans of liquid.

At first, it was charming. The idea that my wife didn’t like the final couple sips of a Coke Zero or a mango-cherry LaCroix was endearing. It was cute. Rolling my eyes lovingly, I’d scoop them up, dump them out, and shoot jumpers into the recycling can with them.

Then, I dared to ask why she didn’t just (a) finish the can (b) place it in the proper receptacle.  

The response was simple, almost rehearsed, as if she were expecting that line of questioning on advice of her counsel.

I don’t like the last couple sips. I do recycle them, just not as fast as you do it.

And that was it. She had both exposed my tendency to busy myself, all the time, and an age-old leadership faux pas known to befall even the greatest leaders: doing things my way.

All marriages are marked by such subtleties, and as an equal partner in the relationship, I, too, have foibles, which are no doubt maddening. The difference is they don’t bother my wife to the point at which she would ask me why. Why do I still play baseball eight months a year? Why do I always listen to 90s grunge? Why do I seem to clear my throat so often? For her, these aren’t unanswered questions hanging over our marriage like a cloud of confusion. For her, these are just parts of my personality she’s come to accept.

Speaking of acceptance, while I still may glower at each unfinished drink as if it had insulted me, I no longer ponder the reasons for its omnipresence in my house.

The irony is that my leadership style is nothing like my husband style. I don’t micromanage, I don’t psychoanalyze my staff, and I don’t flaunt a tattoo that says My way or the highway. In fact, leadership is full of unfinished cans left by countless people for countless reasons. To try to determine each’s origin, motivation, and purpose would undermine the fact that each has a unique origin, motivation, and purpose.

So rather than focusing on the part of the can that’s unfinished, that’s no longer useful, celebrate the rest of the can. Tap into all the wonderful things that your staff does daily. Shed the bombastic ego, which has no place in educational leadership in the first place, in favor of a thoughtful, collaborative approach that asks, “Can I recycle that can for you?” rather than “Why don’t you just recycle that can?”

We have far too much great work to do together to waste time and damage relationships on pettiness and ego.

For cripes sake, it’s only a can of water.