“If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have never spent the night with a mosquito.”
One of my favorite places in the world is my wife’s family’s cabin, a more-than-rustic retreat nestled away in the forests of Northwest Montana with no plumbing but a single faucet of lake water, no phones, no TV, spotty cell service and peace.
When we’re there, my family and I spend the day horsing around in the lake, hiking in the sun. When they’re in season, I pick a bunch of huckleberries, slowly at first because they seem too hard to find, then like a madman when I realize they’re all around me. We eat well, talk a lot and marvel at our good fortune.
Then, it’s bedtime and the single mosquito that survived our most diligent attempts to prevent entry and the eventual, reluctant use of bug spray makes its presence known just as we’re about to fall off to sleep… that maddening, high-pitched hum just next to your ear. You swat at it. You swat at it again. You’re now wide-awake and the pleasant feeling you had moments earlier has completely evaporated.
Life is now about a mosquito. Or rather, killing a mosquito.
So what does this have to do with making a difference? I’ll explain.
I worked with an asset management firm recently that was struggling with growth. As they hired more and more people and hurried to keep pace, the culture that had been so easy to maintain when they were small began to deteriorate. Like a lot of smaller companies experiencing rapid expansion, the things people loved about the place were disappearing. As a result, employee retention had become an issue – further aggravating an already frustrating condition.
Enter the positive; the mosquito (if you will) whose relentless optimism infected everyone in the organization. This particular individual was a new member to the legal team and part of management. One person whose positive perspective had a noticeable impact on the culture that was evident almost immediately.
This individual was eminently competent. Her upbeat outlook was not the product of a naïve world-view. She held herself to a high standard of performance and had the same expectation of her colleagues. What was powerful about her contribution was the respect she demonstrated in her dealings with everyone, an authentic, look-you-in-the-eye style that never varied, whether she was interacting with the CEO or an intern in the mailroom.
She understood as well as anyone how challenging work at a growing company could be. The difference was her attitude. If we faced difficulties, she instilled confidence that we would overcome them together. As Wade Boggs once said, “Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but how we react to what happens, not by what life brings us but the attitude we bring to life.” Whatever the circumstances, she chose to react positively, and the affect on the culture was palpable.
The significance of the mosquito analogy is this: Just as a mosquito demands your attention through its constant, unwavering insistence, a leader (or a follower) who seeks to make a difference in his or her world must also be constant. The power of positivity is lost if it’s unpredictable.
What is often referred to glibly as a “can do” attitude is really a critical business asset. It’s energizing. It attracts other positive, powerful people. It stimulates creativity. Nurturing a positive environment requires people who by their very nature see solutions, not problems. For some this comes naturally, but it’s within reach for us all. The trick is to make positivity your default. As a business leader, if it’s not your style to be relentlessly positive, you need to hire people who are.
You and I have a choice as employers, employees, colleagues, neighbors, clients and friends. With our words and actions, we can represent either the positive or the negative. If we’re to learn anything from the mosquito (apart from desperate rage), it’s that constancy and persistence are powerful forces. Just as the wind permanently shapes trees and water carves stone, the power of an individual’s positive presence can make a real and lasting impact on her company.
Like the mosquito, you can be the positive, supporting voice that can always be counted on to say “we can, we will”, because if you believe it, it’s true.
Do you view yourself as a positive force at work and/or in your community? What kinds of experiences have you had working with someone whose persistent attitudes, good or bad, made a big impact on your company? Please share your thoughts and experiences. It’s always great hearing from you. If you like this or any of my other articles, I hope you will consider sharing and subscribing to my blog. Thanks a lot! ~ Michael