Have you every been on a farm and played with baby chicks? Ok, if you’ve been to a farm more than a few times and have never played with baby chicks as a kid, you seriously missed out. You can scoop them up and get them all riled up and quickly let them go before they poop on your hand. It’s a good time.
If you had the chance to chase them around the yard, you’ll remember that as you paused long enough to rest your hands on your knees to catch your breath, the baby chicks would scatter about lost, trying in vain to rearrange into the proper grouping. They would flock to one another, huddle close as they flapped their wings and chirp as loud as they could, their confidence growing with their unified front. But you would always have the lone baby chick off to the side, captivated by the confusion as if thinking, why am I alone? Why is no one flocking to me? This would usually be the toughest chick that was used to being followed but when a six-year-old kid is going hog-wild running and giggling in the yard, no one follows the leader. They flock together as a crowd and as a crowd grow stronger and set in their ways, leaving the leader to the side, alone and confused.
During a recent exercise at work I noticed the same phenomenon. We were caught up on the excitement of being forced out of the comfort of our 9 hour a day nest, i.e. a fire drill with mandated evacuation. As we made our way to the general meeting area, people ran about excitedly until they found their “friends” and congregated in tight little circles laughing loudly and using exaggerated expressions to show how much fun they were having, how well they belonged. And off to the side I saw the day-to-day leaders of the office, i.e. the big bosses, standing by themselves shuffling from foot to foot looking confused as they felt the glaring presence of loneliness seep into their hard armor of fearless leader. They looked out-of-place as the sunny LA afternoon was awash with a glow hinting of summer BBQ’s, pool parties, and picnics in the park – everyone huddled under summer’s social blanket that warms and brings all Angeleno souls alive.
And just as quickly as I felt sorry for them, I realized that it is just as easy to walk up to a group as it is to isolate yourself and expect others to come to you.
So I looked up, made eye contact and waved – a friendly and artful gesture that says, hey I am happy to see you, come over. And they did and we talked and they relaxed and they felt at home again. And as soon as they reclaimed their sense of self, they led the way in conversation and direction and I was happy to sit back and enjoy the ride because there’s nothing more enjoyable after rousing a bunch of baby chicks than to gather the lonely one and gently coax it back to the group until it starts chirping with authority again.
Lesson of the story: Everyone has a tough time bridging the gap from alone to company – meet them halfway: smile, wave, and engage.