Today I stood in a room surrounded by holiday gifts for 477 individuals in the Washington, DC community. Before my eyes, I saw the tangible impact in the last four months of my work to plan a holiday gift giving event for my university. It is truly amazing to see your work pay off in the form of something physical.
But sometimes being left with a tangible representation of your work is not possible.
This is not an easy pill to swallow. You wonder if the hours upon hours of work you put in produces anything at all. There are plenty of thankless tasks that we do each day, but we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that all of those tasks are for no reason.
In American society, I think sometimes we struggle with properly showing our appreciation for what others do for us. We don't often think of the time it might take for someone to do something, so we may just half-heartedly say "Thanks," if we say anything at all. As someone who appreciates gratitude and feedback about the work I do, not receiving any verbal form of gratitude or even critique can be difficult. I silently hope that what I did was enough or fulfilled what was expected of me. It can be hard to keep yourself self-assured that you are doing the right thing.
But until someone says "no" or "stop" or provides any sort of critique or feedback we should just keep on doing what we are doing. Because a small task that could be passed off as the bare minimum or just something to do could be seen as going the extra mile to someone else.
This is because another flaw in American culture is the desire to receive something as proof of our effort. This is seen a lot in community service if people go out and do a day of service, many go in with the expectation of seeing the direct impact of their service. If they don't see that impact, they may feel disappointed when in reality it can be the least visible things that are the most impactful.
There is a TED talk that much more eloquently describes the point I am trying to make. Drew Dudley presented a TED Talk on "Everyday Leadership" or what I like to call lollipop moments.
Dudley describes how during college orientation when he was volunteering and handing out lollipops as part of the orientation festivities, he saw a girl who was visibly upset standing in a line. Dudley went to the boy who was standing behind this girl and handed the boy a lollipop and told him to give it to the girl in front of him.
It was a small act of kindness. It is one wherein the moment you might walk away with a warm feeling that quickly fades and then you don't think much of the event afterword. In Dudley's case, his gesture created an impact he never would have imagined.
Years later, Dudley received a wedding invitation. It was announcing the wedding of the boy and girl in line. That lollipop from Dudley started a long-term relationship that led to a marriage.
These are the moments Dudley calls lollipop moments, the moments that can pass without recognition, yet still, have large impacts. Dudley argues that this is the mentality we should have as we go about our lives every day.
Being leaders through the smallest of actions. A smile, a hug, a compliment, an interaction over the phone, a simple favor. These are things that don't take much, in fact, I am sure you already do some of these things every day already.
So, if you are already doing these things, why am I telling you to do them? Because we can all be reminded of this sometimes. We may get caught up for competing for the biggest piece of recognition or searching for some tangible evidence that proves to us that we are making a difference, but our impact is often invisible, and that is okay.
In the meantime, a small moment of leadership you can take is gratitude. Showing others that you are grateful for them and their actions can go a long way. I am sure when you are thanked for doing something it makes your bucket a little fuller, so go ahead and fill another person's bucket with your thanks and gratitude.
All of these things are very interconnected. Often, we neglect to let people know their work is appreciated and having an impact. But we have to be mindful that the biggest impacts may go unspoken or realized for quite some time. In turn, though, we can remind people they are appreciated by showing our gratitude for what they do for us and being leaders in our everyday actions.