“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for the rest of his life.” – Chinese Proverb
I used to think my dad came up with this proverb. I heard him say it all the time when I was a child growing up on a farm in rural Zaire. My parents were missionaries and their purpose was to help develop sustainable ways for local Africans to have good nutrition, a safe water supply, and basic rural healthcare. My dad brought rabbits to Africa. Rabbits are high in protein, easy to care for, breed rapidly, eat green stuff, and their waste products are great for gardens. Perfect for a tropical climate! My father helped develop systems for local Africans to raise rabbits in a way that fit into their culture and helped supplement a low-protein diet.
Thirty years after he left Zaire, dad returned to visit the village where he invested so much. Knowing he had prostate cancer and only a few years to live, he brought back his grown son (by brother) and his adult grandson to reunite and bring closure. Upon arriving at his home village, he saw that raising rabbits was alive and well! Even with some innovations along the way! My father was revered by the local elders, respected for his work and the way he helped without creating dependence, supported while preserving dignity, showed passion without being condescending. He left a legacy of resourcefulness.
Resourcefulness is the second of three critical Compassionate Accountability Skills and can be developed by practicing these three strategies. The focus of Resourcefulness is to figure things out and problem-solve towards solutions in a spirit of curiosity.
Dad didn’t come barging in to the little village of Nyanga, Zaire questioning the intentions of the locals. He came with humility and awe around their desire to live a better life and improve things for their children. Did he have ideas on how things could be done better? Sure. Did he wonder why things were being done a certain way? Absolutely. Highlighting effort is not about questioning current behavior. It’s about affirming intentions, seeking to understand and value the noble reasons why people do what they do.
Tips for highlighting effort
- Point out effort more than results; e.g. “I noticed how hard you’ve been working on this.”
- Assume the best intentions; e.g. “I know you want to make things better for us.” or “I can see how much you care about our vision.”
- Be gracious with failure; e.g. “That didn’t work, but I know your heart was in the right place.” or “We can figure out what to change next time, and meanwhile I’m delighted that you put yourself out there.” Here’s a great book on failing forward.
- Don’t do it for them. It’s OK to work hard. Support people while they learn and grow.
When gathering information about a situation or problem, curiosity is the best approach. Whether researching ideas online, brainstorming solutions to a problem, or doing a post-mortem on a failed initiative, non-judgmental curiosity is paramount to obtain the best results. It’s the only way people will be inspired to pursue the best options. There is a time to discern, set boundaries, and make choices (hint…Persistence), and that comes later. Resourcefulness is about learning. Learning happens in curious environments when people are receptive.
Tips to gather information
- Ask open ended questions while avoiding closed-ended ones. It’s more productive to ask “What ideas do you have?” than “Do you agree with this idea?” Where I grew up in Africa it was impolite to tell someone No. If I was lost and asked as local, “Is this the way to Kanaga?”, he would answer Yes every time.
- Give people time to contribute. You can’t rush it. People need time to think, ponder, reflect, analyze, and share what’s on their minds. Jumping in with your ideas is rescuing and prevents their best effort.
- Follow the trail to seek understanding. Curious leaders ask a ton follow-up questions to better understand an idea or concept. Join in the journey of exploring an idea for all its possibilities; e.g. “If we played that out, what’s next?” or “Let’s follow that line of reasoning and see where it takes us.”
- Quality of ideas trumps ownership. Put your ego aside and help others do the same. Worrying about who gets credit only gets in the way. My dad was thrilled that locals were still raising rabbits. He was more thrilled that they had improved upon the original idea.
Build on strengths
Nothing breeds success (and effort, and confidence, and hope) than success. Several years ago my oldest daughter, Lauren, participated in a mission trip to help rebuild houses in South Texas that were damaged by tropical storms. She was put on sheetrock duty, with which she had zero previous experience. Not having a clue where to start, she asked the foreman for help. The foreman asked her several questions about high school, including her favorite classes. She mentioned that she loved math, especially algebra and trigonometry. “Sheetrock is all about angles! You’ve got just what it takes!” the foreman told her, and proceeded to show her how to calculate angles and distances on a wall and then re-create the image on a piece of sheetrock. Within a few hours, Lauren was sheet-rockin’ and rollin’!
Great leaders search the most unlikely skills and successes in a person’s life, and find ways to leverage those towards current challenges.
Tips for building on strengths
- Learn about your people beyond the most obvious work-related skills. What are their passions, hobbies, and proud accomplishments? Ask questions like, “When have you felt most confident, and why?”, or “What’s something you are good at, no matter if it relates or not?”
- Think small, with big purpose. Breaking a big project down into smaller skill-sets and tasks will help you identify how people’s strengths can be used. Then, delegate with emphasis on how important their contribution is; e.g. “I’ve heard you are amazing at creating things with bamboo. Would you see if you could build a bamboo cage to contain a rabbit for 24 hours?”
- Celebrate strategy over individual skills. Strategy is about how we approach a task, not our skill level going in. Highlighting strategies that others can apply regardless of their skill or experience is a great way to improve the overall performance of a team; e.g. “I really appreciate how you kept trying even when the first few things didn’t work. That kind of perseverance is something we could all benefit from.” or “You ask really good questions. Asking for an outside perspective is a great way to avoid doing the same thing expecting different results.”
What’s in it for me?
Wy improve your skills at leading resourcefully? Here are some real-life outcomes from my dad’s life.
- Loyalty forged from knowing that I am more competent and confident and independent because you helped me but didn’t do it for me.
- Greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in my life.
- Having more energy because we share the struggle and share the joy of accomplishment.
- Greater team cohesiveness.
- The satisfaction of helping others develop self-sufficiency and self-confidence.
- Knowing that the measure of my success isn’t in what I do, but what I help others do.
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