Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Power of a Gentle Deadline

Time Marches Inevitably On!
Bill Cosby did it best!  He would deadpan a wide-eyed expression at his TV wife, Phyllicia Rashad and hold his hands palms up, raise his eyebrows and literally back away from the passing market forces about to impact one of his kids!

Talk about applying enforced helplessness!  Gentle deadlines will do that for a parent (or gramparent).  It's using a kind of jujitsu of what a kid really wants to do or have in the direction of what he or she needs to do to get it. (using the force of the desire to "engineer" better, more targeted behavior.    It takes patience and a certain knack to hold one's senior face in a way that doesn't gloat or posture.  The Power of a Gentle Deadline can work internal miracles...but there is a trick to it!

I think I first learned this skill when Gramma Rosie and I were called to be the directors of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in our neighborhood (LDS Stake) in 1988.  As we marched from the first read through rehearsals through splitting into red, blue and green teams and pulling the whole production together on the way to a Thursday April 21st Opening night, one woman came to me with a legitimate concern about her limited time planned to rehearse with the live orchestra.  My patient reply was simple:  "you have your minus tracks on tape and 24 hours a day, every day between now and opening night.  I'll meet with you as often as you like, but our time is scheduled for the orchestra and you'll get what you can get.

Discussing this development with this slightly scared prima donna wanna be with my co-director, Gramma Rosie smiled and said she understood.   "This dear sister just wants some extra attention.  She's never done this before and she wants somebody, anybody to pay attention and give her some reassurance"

That's what it was!   Curtain went up on schedule and the amateur Golda for the Green Team did her role very well...and without the extra time before our pit orchestra..

In a sociology class at BYU I learned that folks will work as hard for a quarter token payment as they would for $25 dollars an hour.  For the joy of a new challenge and out of respect for the inner "pride" of doing one's best, it is almost always in the nature or those who are properly led to knock themselves out--to do their best and achieve a sense of satisfaction.  .  Sometimes fear motivates them to get going, but at the finish it's JOY that breaks the tape.  We've all been taught that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well!

I've never read the statistics, but I'm guessing that well-run prisons use this principle--letting the gentle pressure of time frames and deadlines mold behavior and motivate compliance--even excellence among an otherwise rebellious prison population.

Earlier this week I met a wonderful thirty something daughter of my publisher, C. Michael Perry, who uses a simple Navy bean motivation system to get cooperation in a Sunday School class of squirmy twelve year old boys and girls at church.  The goal over a quarter is to achieve a certain number of beans in the class account.   Good questions and good behavior are rewarded with beans.  Acting up result in beans being taken away--and resulting peer pressure to behave.  

There is power in a caring indifference to time marching on when someone you have stewardship for wants something badly.   Bobbing and weaving and giving advice only when called upon--that enforced helplessness that implicitly enlists the best judgement of the other person--that is shadow leadership of the best quality.

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