Recently, I've been reflecting on the power of speech and its ability to greatly affect our attitudes. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to teach martial arts to a group of inner city youth. I was part of a city wide grant program aimed at teaching discipline and self-respect to kids who were often labeled as "troubled." I remember my first day of class as 20 youth, a mixture of both boys and girls, entered the room. They were loud and full of energy. They seemed more interested in discussing what fights they got into that day or how their parents yelled at them, than what I had to say or offer. My first thought was, "What have I gotten myself into." I admit that after that first class, I wasn't sure I wanted to go back. "They don't care about anything and they are so disrespectful. This is going to be a waste of time," I thought. Despite my better judgment, I went back the following week. At no surprise to me, the second class was just as bad, if not worse, than the first! My mind was then set... "These kids will never make it... I'm done."
As I reflected upon my experience thus far over those two weeks, the words of the grant program administrator came floating back into my mind, "It won't be easy, but they don't have many who believe in them. They just need someone to show faith in them." Suddenly a light bulb illuminated my mind and I saw the words, "Speak to Empower Change." If it seemed to them that everyone was against them, and that no one believed in them, why would they change? We use words to create, and those creations can have positive or negative results on our attitudes. Thus far, what had been created for these kids was an atmosphere of distrust and disbelief. Disappointment had been sown into every fabric of their lives by teachers and parents alike. The thought occurred to me... if I wanted them to change, I had to speak change.
The third class came. I watched as the same restless, disrespectful kids entered the workout room. This time however, instead of telling them to be quiet, sit still, or stop hitting one another (the same as they had always been told by everyone,) I told them something along these lines: "You are here to learn to be the best you can be. You're smart and if you listen to me, I'll teach you not only to defend yourself physically, but mentally. You will learn to earn respect from your parents, your teachers, and your peers. I will teach you how to accomplish whatever it is you wish to accomplish, and we'll do all of this while having some fun." I'm not sure what magic was in the room that night, but something clicked. Over the next few months, I made a point to always speak positive words of encouragement and belief. I watched in anticipation as these kids literally blossomed before my eyes. Where once they entered the workout room yelling and screaming, hitting one another, they now entered, removed their shoes, and lined up at attention, ready for the workout. I felt much as a proud parent might feel, as I watched a student who once was one of the most disrespectful, now stand at the front of the class and lead the others in warm up. These youth began to do something that everyone deemed as near impossible—they began to change. The creative words of distrust and disbelief had now been replaced with those of honor, self-respect, and leadership.
Speak to Empower Change for Employees
Herein lies a great lesson: as leaders, how often do we speak change in our employees? Are our words creating an atmosphere of belief and opportunity? Or are we creating distrust and disloyalty? Some employees may have a poor attitude or perhaps we feel they are lazy or have communication problems. We may feel they are disrespectful. Do we as leaders fall into the trap of thinking they will never change? Much like those inner city youth, sometimes all employees need is for someone to believe in them and speak words of change.
Once several years ago, I had a co-worker that fit the epitome of the bad employee. Often late and definitely lazy, she was not liked by her colleagues. Some of us could not believe she still had a job. But little by little, we noticed change. Where once we saw a lazy employee with a poor attitude, we now began to see someone who had drive and determination. Why the change? Simply because our supervisor was incredibly positive and constantly expressed a belief in the ability in ALL of us to be the best. He spoke change.
In September of 2014, I had the outstanding opportunity to crash the CU Water Cooler Symposium. As I listened to the amazing presentations given by some of the great minds in the credit union movement, one theme seemed to resonate; we as leaders are the oracles of positive change in those we lead. We have the power to speak change. May we approach our employees with an attitude of belief in what they can become, not what they have been. In so doing, we are sure to create a culture where ALL can and will flourish.
Joshua W. Poole began his credit union career as a part-time teller, shortly after graduating from high school in 1999. During his career, Joshua has served in positions such as MSR, Loan Officer, Mortgage Originator, Marketing Rep., Business Development Officer, and Branch Manager. He currently serves as the Chief Lending Officer for Shell Geismar FCU in Gonzales, LA.