Moving Obstacles to Awesome

I am a passionate supporter of open door policies. So passionate that on the rare cases when I close my office door to focus on a looming assignment no one really feels stopped by it. They stick their heads in to ask me a question or to get pointed in the right direction. I remember turning away only one person over the years — and I remember feeling so stressed at the moment that I didn’t even feel bad doing it.

It was a “hair on fire” moment…and not my finest hour.

My desire to be seen as approachable and available goes beyond my office. I remember the dismay when I first put my personal cell phone number on my email signature. “Aren’t you worried that someone will call you?” one of my colleagues asked. I laughed, “Well if they need me, I hope they will. That’s why I put it there.” They were sure it would be abused, that I would fend off constant bothersome interruptions. That my number would become the 867-5309 of cell phones.

Turns out that I’m not that popular.

In fact, I only remember one unexpected call. One day, I was heading over to tour the construction site of one of the new residence halls. My phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize, but I answered it. It was a student voice letting me know that he was running late but would be at the tour; he asked if I could hold it for five minutes while he hustled across campus. I told him that we would wait and shared that I was glad (and a bit surprised) that he had my number. I asked him how he had gotten it. Now it was his turn to be surprised, “It was right on the email you sent.” Duh.

I was reminded of that moment because I spent most of the day telling groups of 30-40 people that I wanted them to see me as their technology connection. I reiterated that if they felt something wasn’t working, or they didn’t understand why something was the way it was, they should reach out. I told them I wouldn’t have all of the answers but that I would help them connect with the right people. I told them my cell phone number was on my email and in the directory so they could call.

I want to believe they will reach out, but safe money says they won’t.

Over the years I’ve found that very few people trust an open offer of help. Some worry that asking for help will mean weakness and be viewed negatively by others. Some worry that people are too busy or too important to be bothered. Some just don’t trust the sincerity. So, instead of reaching out for a lifeline, people stew. They struggle. They try to fix it themselves and too often they give up and live with the problem.

In my teams, I’ve watched people bang their heads against a wall for two hours tying to figure out an Excel formula before coming to my desk and getting a 3-minute answer. I’ve watched people navigate a corporate directory trying to find the right person only to ask me two days later when I quickly gave them the right name. I’ve watched people dig through online documents trying to find a desk procedure that I knew how to locate.

And, in case you think I’m suggesting that the path to everything good is through Mel, far from it. I reach out to my lifelines all the time. My point is that there is amazing power through collaboration, but only when you believe that individuals are open to helping you be successful. That if you are willing to give people the benefit of the doubt they can help you. You just have to be willing to assume that if they can help they will help. It is about believing in your core about the promise of shared success.

The idea of helping people succeed is so important to me that this year I made it my mantra. I grabbed a hot pink Post-It note and a Sharpie marker and I wrote down the phrase, “Moving obstacles to awesome.” It was scribbled and ugly, but I put it up on my overhead cabinet and there it has stayed. It is my inspiration when I feel low and frustrated, when things aren’t working and when I am not sure how I will make it to the next checkpoint. Hell, it’s my inspiration when I’m not even sure whether the next checkpoint even matters. Somehow just knowing that I have a chance to help someone move an obstacle to awesome gives me another jolt of energy. It helps me to push on.

So call — let me be a part of your awesome.

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