Monday, 9 March 2015

Letting go of being in charge

Until recently I held a job where a lot of the time I got to be the boss. I led teams of people in the garden and although we worked collaboratively I had a lot of control over the process because I was the one with the knowledge and experience. In the end, if there was a decision to be made I generally got the final say.

Just after I left this job I worked in a little guest house called Shanti Shanti on the Cambodian coast. Set on the beach with the waves lapping gently up to the little cane deck chairs, it's a place that should have been very peaceful. But actually it was often anything but! This is because the manager, an eccentric French gentleman, was very stressed indeed! And because he was so stressed his most common mode of communication was growling.

'Spoon, spoon, spoon!' he would shout at me in the kitchen, and then when I handed him a desert spoon: 'No! Spoon spoon!' The interpretation of this for those who are wondering is 'No I want a tea spoon.'

Once day the two of us, the only English speaking staff in this very small establishment, set out to mend a banner who's eyelets had been torn off. My initial idea, which I respectfully proposed, was to make new holes by cutting a small strip from the side, sewing a strong patch onto the corner and then reinforcing a new hole as one would a button hole. This way it would last for a good few years even in strong winds.

But my plan was not acceptable at all! 'Don't complicate things,' was the reply, and I was told to attach the banner to crooked bamboo poles with sticky tape. Of course this did not work! The result looked terrible unprofessional and would have lasted a week at the most, so we scrapped that idea after half an hour of mucking around. A series of new and increasingly wacky ideas ensued til I had spent the best part of my two hour shift on the project, but eventually the banner was up and looking fine.

This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. Of course I thought my plan was best but I had no say in the matter. Instead I had to bite my tongue and do what I was told. I'm sure many similar experiences lie ahead for me and each time I will need to swallow my pride and accept that I am not in charge.

But there is a blessing in all this. For the first time in a long time I was not the one responsible. I could relax and allow someone else to lead. This gave me the space to cultivate a calm and quiet spirit, and encourage the yin qualities of receptivity, gentleness and nurturing. Very soon my boss was confiding in me his fears and frustrations, and in this mode of openness I was able to listen and provide support.

Eventually we got along just fine, he and I. And I learned very quickly how to let go of being in charge!

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