I am the main laundry-doer in my household, and sometimes it simply feels like I’m a scullery maid. Like the laundry simply multiplies when left alone, and as soon as I’ve finished, there’s somehow another load to be washed, dried, folded, and put away. There’s always more, and I seem to endlessly head up and down stairs with clothes in various stages of cleanliness.
I was ensconced in my laundry duties the other day, when suddenly I realized that even in this most mundane of tasks, there are leadership lessons to be learned, and a thoughtful leadership approach to take. A choice became crystal clear. I could continue to bemoan the ever-present laundry and seemingly endless and thankless job, or I could approach it with a sense of intention. As I pondered (and folded) I realized that there were at least five important leadership lessons within the pile of clothes.
- Being present – At Chatsworth Consulting Group we teach, talk, and write about “thoughtful leadership” – about being in the present moment and intentional in what you do and how you do it. Who knew that laundry could be an exercise in staying present? But as I focused entirely on my task at hand, I not only did a better job at folding, but I found a sense of peace and enjoyment in this simplest of tasks. As leaders we serve our teams and organizations more fully when and if we can be fully present to the situations and people around us.
- Considering the “rules” – We’ve all heard, over and over again, the importance of sorting clothes, and washing whites in hot water and colors in cool…and yet sometimes I don’t. Even in laundry there’s the opportunity to make a conscious choice about which “rules” to follow and which rules to break. I often wash everything in cold – an environmental choice, and my choice to make. Leaders need to make these conscious choices – to identify when it’s best to follow the rules, and when it’s best to try a different way.
- Serving others – When I take on the laundry of my entire family (of only four) I am choosing to be of service, to help those around me, to sacrifice how I might rather spend my time in order to move the entire family (“team”) along. I have the choice to resent the myriad of filthy clothes and the family members who dirtied the clothes, or I have the opportunity to provide this service, this assistance, to those around me. Leaders who deliberately serve those around them – their people, their teams, and their organizations – will most often move forward more successfully.
- Making the best of it – Again, laundry is usually not an intrinsically enjoyable job, at least not for me. But it’s a job that I have agreed to take on. I therefore have the choice to make the best of it, find what’s enjoyable about it, and do my best to make it enjoyable…or not. As leaders there are times when we need to make the best of a tough job or an unpleasant situation, those that follow us look to us for that.
This evening, as I folded the laundry of the ones I love, I realized that there were, once again, lessons for me around leadership, right in front of my eyes. There is always a chance to be more present, to consider whether any “rules” constrain or strengthen me, to be of service, and to make the best of the task in front of me. There is always a choice to roll up my sleeves and do the “dirty” work – and to bring myself, my team, my organization, and/or my family further along.