Leadership Development: “results are not immediate.”

Last week a group of non-profit leaders from elder-serving organizations met here, and one thread that ran through our conversations, was begun by my colleague Audrey, who said that she was increasingly aware in leadership development work that “results are not immediate.”  Results come in their own time. 

 Her words have stayed with me, particularly after watching the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics.  How long people trained to compete at that level!  The amount of practice to develop that level of mastery.  The quality of coaching.  The support of family, friends.  “The results are not immediate.”

 It reminded me of Carol Dweck’s work about achievement: effort, and persistence, and “grit” matter.  Talent is a factor, but passion and persistence and practice count for a lot. 

 I get hooked on the Olympics.  We always followed them when I was growing up.  My dad had just missed a place on the 1932 US Olympic team by one wrestling hold.  I suppose that would have put him there with the men featured in the movie, “The Boys in the Boat.”  A life-time athlete, he was still skiing in his 80’s.  So athletics was big in our family. 

 Photo Credit: Makaristos - Own work, Public Domain

Photo Credit: Makaristos - Own work, Public Domain

 And this year I was further hooked because Alisha Glass who like me grew up in Leland, Michigan was a leader on the USA women’s volleyball team that won bronze.  The entire village followed every twist and turn of that team—with huge pride.  Imagine a bronze medal from our town!

 And from another country other than the US, my husband’s father was head of physical training for the British army and a standout in gymnastics. 

 But what additionally hooked me on the summer Olympics was the remarkable record of the US women across so many fields.  What a gift it is to all of us with daughters, granddaughters, and nieces.  One can’t keep from asking, “How did this happen?”  One answer is pretty evident.   Even the NBC sportscasters noted that it is 40 years now since the passage of Title IX that legislated equality for women in sports programs (among other things).  It is no accident that with each of the more recent Olympics the US women seem to garner more medals.  In an inspiring story of “results are not immediate” the US women athletes took home more medals from Rio than their male colleagues. 

But 40 years ago, it seemed to be a different world.  When I was leading the fight for implementing Title IX (and it was a fight and it wasn’t pretty) at the University of Maryland, I could never have imagined the possibility of what I saw at the Rio Olympics.  These results would have been hard to imagine when the head of athletics at the university was screaming at me that it was women like me who would be the “downfall of the American family as we know it.”  Being from a small mid-western town I’d not seen adults behave like that.   And being a farm kid, I already knew that things took time. 

But persistence and determination move things.  Over time.  And create new possibilities.  They shape a new mindset individually, collectively-- about what we can dream to achieve. 

 Of course, for me, a poet, this notion that “the results are not immediate” is captured by a poem.  It is Marge Piercy’s “The Seven of Pentacles” which has these wonderful lines:

 

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.

You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.

 

And pasted at the very end of this post, for your poetry collection, is Piercy’s entire poem, in case you don’t have it already.   Ah, Olympics and poetry. 


Marge Piercy is an American novelist and poet whose powerful images of the natural world and the world of feminism are marked by her ties to Cape Cod and the northeast.

 THE SEVEN OF PENTACLES

The following is published inPiercy, Marge.  (1990).  Circles on the water.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf

 

Under a sky the color of pea soup

she is looking at her work growing away there

actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans

as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.

If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,

if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,

if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,

if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,

then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

 

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.

You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.

More than half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.

Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.

Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.

Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.

Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

 

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.

Live a life you can endure:   make love that is loving.

Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,

a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us

interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

 

Live as if you like yourself, and it may happen:

reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.

This is how we are going to live for a long time:  not always;

for every gardener knows that after the digging, after

              the planting,

after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.


Questions for journaling, meditation, or conversation:

1) Where or when have you practiced patience when anticipating results?  
2) How did letting go of expectations impact the outcome?
3) What practice will help you with patience? 

4) Reflect on a skill you have mastered that isn't work related.