“But still like dust I’ll rise” (Drawing on my Strengths during National Lockdown)

The Quiet Strength of the Ambitious Introvert

That great philosopher, Bob Marley, once said, ‘You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.’

If ever we needed to be strong, it is now, during a national and global time of crisis caused by something we cannot see, and find so difficult to fathom because of its invisibility.

We have no choice but to to be resilient; to be creative; to find our inner Wonder Woman and go to war.

At my school this year we did a whole-staff workshop on finding and developing our strengths, based on the CliftonStrengths34 Test. Who would have thought that this would be most opportune?!

https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/252137/home.aspx

How useful I am finding what I learned about myself – especially the fact that actually I am STRONG to start with in particular areas.

Just to summarise the concept: the test identifies 34 strengths we possess in varying degrees (which are clustered around how we execute, relate, strategize, or influence in our world) and guides one to amplify your top five, as opposed to highlighting weak areas. It presumes that one’s strengths can also be deficiencies, but prefers to focus on magnifying our talents, rather than dwelling on limitations.

So the big reveal: my top strengths are:

  1. Achiever (Executing) – this girl is no shrinking violet!
  2. Positivity (Relating) – yeah I’m one of those annoying ‘let’s make lemonade out of them lemons’ kinda gal
  3. Input (Strategizing) – I am a collector – of information, ideas, facts – fortunately this has not devolved into collecting dodgy figurines or stuff! There is no stamp, or spoon hoarding for me – I collect thoughts (and children, but that’s another story entirely!) – I research.
  4. Connectedness (Relating) – I see links between people, like puzzle pieces and dominoes.
  5. Communication (Influencing) – step aside Instagram influencers, copywriters and politicians, here I come.

Apparently because I have strengths across the clusters, I am well-rounded – and we’re not speaking about my hips for once. So I can do stuff; I’m good with people; I study and research well; and I can influence others (if only I could influence my offspring to have a deep, abiding love to replace the bin liner, I could rule the world!

The big question is: how am I going to utilise these superpowers during the quarantine which has been extended for another 24 days (see I used my research drive to check the actual number!). It’s hard when the goalposts are moved, but there are things we can do to cope.

A colleague sent me a list of how folk with my skills respond to this lockdown and it’s scarily accurate for me. I don’t know the source so apologies to the original author. The comment are mine:

Things people like me say:

  • Achiever – “There goes my to-do list, at least working from home can be more productive.”

I’m always trying to ringfence admin time to get through things so to be honest I was pleased to have the time to get to my To Do List. My problem is that a whole of other minor things were added – like risking my life along the venomous aisles of supermarkets, sidestepping mask-clad aliens who despite covering their faces, have NO idea of social distancing, wondering where the nasty Corona critters are lurking: if I die, just remember it was a tall, elderly man called Mike with thinning grey hair, who kept creeping too close behind me in the trolley queue, despite my actually jumping like a pre-schooler onto the large circles on the floor to draw his attention to the demarcation of safe distancing. (More aerobic exercise than I have had since my last disastrous dance class with Caitlin.) I can’t add anymore distinguishing features because he was wearing a mask – I did consider coughing loudly over my shoulder to frighten him, but I am much too polite.

 Then there are the chores that have found their way onto the list (and I am not speaking of daily chores like sweeping or laundry) – I had to wash my windows before I made a video for my staff; every time I walk down the stairs I remind myself that I must remove all the dusty lamp fittings and wash them; I’m scrubbing light switches with the fervour of a nun; Jikking the shower and rehanging curtains that have bothered me for years because some idiot didn’t use the correct hooks, not to mention having tidied every shelf in my cupboard. Mind you, some sanity has prevailed because I have not yet been sucked into the vortex of the maestro’s cupboard, but… 24 more days…

So the To Do List is still there, stood up like a Tinder date…

  • Positivity – “It will all turn out for the best! This is an opportunity for some great new things!”

The closet Pollyanna in me is secretly enjoying the freedom of the lockdown and finding many bright sides to the gloom of being trapped with 4 other family members. If anything kept me going through all the years of single-parenting five children all two years apart, it was an ability to be cheerful and have fun.

As a leader, it is vital that I now encourage and support my staff and parents and I must say, my school, Curro Century City, is producing enormously creative teaching and learning at this time, by educators who have overnight transformed the manner in which they deliver the curriculum; our estate manager is teaching his community via video to make masks and one of our admin staff is hosting Watch Parties to inspire us with her haunting soprano voice, accompanied by her husband on the trumpet. Curro schools have stepped up to assist in the production of face masks for medical personnel, using our 3-D printers. The learners are having fun and learning to work steadily at their own pace. I had to chuckle at Grade 8s who, when given some teacher-mic-off time to socialise (a sort of digital break time), refused to turn on their cameras because of bed-hair…but there is so much to be positive about.

This crisis has forever changed the way we shall teach in the future and I am so proud of my team. We have taken the threat and turned it into an opportunity.

In our home, Shannon is writing a novel, publishing it serially like Charles Dickens, on an app called Wattpad (I’ll hide my grammarian cringe for now at that spelling). It’s called All the Colours of Light if you’re running out of reading material. And now I have learned something new about publishing – and it’s free.

  • Input – “What else can I read and research on this, so I can share it with others?”

I must confess to doing some searching online about this virus that has brought the modern world to a standstill. It’s quite beautiful really, this little microscopic fellow earthling: the models make it look like a soft, fuzzy felt pincushion, or one of those kitsch, crocheted toilet roll holders found in tannies’ loos. It’s hard to believe that this odd-looking structure has laid waste to centuries old civilizations in Europe and threatens us all.  Move over asteroids and volcanoes; Armageddon is in the microscopic detail. Those Spike Glycoproteins promote entry into cells and love the environment of our lungs. Like millions of medieval horsemen with their spiked flails, the virus army soldiers into war with our antibodies. And it is clear that it is winning in many cases. Poor tuberculoid lungs weakened from battle with the advance army of the TB virus, or the body desperately using the rear guard of antiretrovirals to stay off the onslaught of the HIV virus, quickly succumb.

These things may look like your grandmother’s doilies, but they are lethal. So. Stay. The. Hell. At. Home!

  • Connectedness – “This all makes sense, we are all connected.”
Connectedness – The New Differentiator - SWOOP Analytics

Standing in a queue at the supermarket, glaring at mask-clad strangers who dare to step forward closer than their allotted line on the floor, it is possible to see there is a crisis in the world; having the imagination to truly appreciate how a microbe from his hand, which has scratched his rheumy eye can fly to my shopping basket can move from the handle to the food item to the cashier’s hand, to her mouth, to her lover’s hand, to his mouth, down his oesophagus and into his TB compromised lungs, takes some imagination. And we just don’t know, do we – whether is me or you who passes that virus on?

To be honest the not-hugging thing is hard. I saw my son at the shop yesterday. Couldn’t hug him. Wanted to – really badly, and will again fiercely, but it could be me who visits this on him and his flatmate. It was the most frustrating thing for a mother – but far preferable to not being able to visit him in a hospital ICU.

The knock-on effect is also so evident in the economies around the world: as containers lie fully laden outside closed ports, importers cannot access their products to sell, to pay employees who cannot sell it and so now have no income to feed their children, or pay their school fees… I am so grateful for the altruism of the parents at my school that those who can are paying their school fees so that the school can continue to educate their children and those whose parents are suddenly impoverished and so we shall still have a school to return to when this is all over.

In pipes Positive Me: “It will be over. We shall emerge victorious from this. We have a warrior leader to look up to – ‘cometh the hour; cometh the man:’”

President Cyril Ramaphosa is our superperson! Captain South Africa!

Keep the emotional connectedness with people – check in regularly.

  • Communication – “Who else can I talk to about this?”
How communication skills can help you become a better Business ...

Well this is me generally. Not for no reason did almost all of my school reports say, ‘Colleen talks too much in class.’ Clever me, I picked a profession which allows me to speak a lot.

But in this time, I am making sure I call my sister (connectedness) and talk things through. I have to say that I always thought I was her person, but am seeing now when I cannot see her, how much she is my person too. Fortunately, I am surrounded by children I can make listen to me too and occasionally my husband comes to snuggle close. I have always been one of those people who needs a sounding board and someone to discuss things with. How fortunate to live with a fellow educator with whom I can unpack some of the challenges our educational system is facing now, someone who gets it. Our dinner table often hosts heated debates and we laugh our way through most things

The Mad Lab makes a good listener too, although her theories on how to do strategic planning accurately in a time of great flux are a trifle elementary.

As leaders, it is vital that we communicate clearly with staff and learners.

Illustration by Catherine Song. © The Balance, 2018

Even though we do not all have electron microscopes to magnify this cursed virus so we know it’s real and an obvious threat, we do have the ability to magnify our strengths – then we shall feel we are winning in lockdown… well the competitor in me who wants to win would feel that (but that’s a story for another day…)

“Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.

Lao Tzu

Five simple things I want to tell girls about speaking in public

It is a truth universally accepted that women have to contend with prejudice both overt and subtle when standing up to speak. When the audience ((no matter its size or gender make-up) has completed its superficial scrutiny of what fashion statements our clothing and body shape are making (inexpensive elegance from Les Chinese and sponsored by Cadbury in my case,) the group will eventually engage with our message.

The challenge is to ensure that our messages are not lost in poor presentation skills. Here are a few pointers I have found useful in my own delivery as well as in coaching young people in the classroom.

  • Own your space.
  • Don’t giggle.
  • Lower your pitch.
  • Slow down.
  • Stay away from insipid expressions and apologies.

Own your space:

Any good communication depends on what I call ‘crossing the gap’ from speaker to listener. If you are called to share an opinion or give a talk, your primary task is to carry your message from your own genius to the hearers.’ Don’t shrink from traversing that space with your body language. An audience will applaud anything if it’s said with enough panache. A bombastic oration which is flimsy on content is always better received than timid eloquence (which may explain the popularity of certain politicians and churches – despite the patent lack of spiritual or bodily gain from Doom, snakes or loud praying – ask Brighton and Pastor Lukau of the the coffin fame.)

Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating vacuous braggadocio performances, but a confident pose is a sure way to have your audience sit up and take notice (and I don’t mean like Mr Moyo’s fake rising from the coffin!) I am assuming you have profound wisdom to share – so stand and deliver it with aplomb. Much has been said about the Wonder Woman stance being an effective warm up before an important speech and I must attest to its efficacy. Also, studies have proved it, so you don’t have to just take my word for it: Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language is brilliant:

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

Something else women are not taught is the authority which is communicated through a firm handshake. We don’t need to get into the relative power plays engaged in by persons of Mr Trump and Mr Macron’s ilk. Men may well use the strength of a person’s handshake as a measure of their personal value, and no matter how much we dislike that, if you’re going to allow your hand to flounder limply in someone’s grip like a pap snoek, you may not be taken seriously. I also find that men will hug a female colleague, before they shake her hand, and although one may well hug them because they are close friends, it isn’t professional. Be the first to stick out your hand and initiate the gesture.

Don’t giggle:

Nothing says “I am inadequate and insecure’ like a giggling Gertie. Every description of giggling fits includes two interesting words: ‘silly’ and ‘girls.’ While this may have your inner feminist fuming, we cannot argue with the fact that self-conscious tittering (no matter your gender) makes your audience see how uncomfortable you are in a situation and definitely has no business gurgling out on a podium.

The problem of course is that oftentimes our unconscious Piglet or Nervous Nellie bubbles forth uncontrollably at inopportune moments, especially when we are anxious. We know instinctively we shouldn’t be letting that flutter of foolishness loose, which is why if you google images of giggling most pictures depict a person with a hand covering the twittering. It must be so because even the giggling emoji says so.

So explore techniques to calm yourself before your big moment. Avoid big sighs or obvious palm pinching though. Try placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathing deeply. Plan and practise your opening.

Lower your pitch:

Back in the Dark Ages when I was a student teacher, I eagerly asked for feedback from my charges. ‘You have a squeaky voice’ was not quite what I was expecting, but in hindsight marked a singularly significant shift in the gravitas with which I was perceived.

Anxiety can alter our pitch so cultivating relaxation habits before a presentation and consciously lowering your voice will help you come across as more authoritative. Lions are taken more seriously than hyenas. It is horribly unfair that men automatically command attention simply by having deeper voices, but women can consciously lower the pitch – you don’t need to be Batman gravelly or Louis Armstrong deep – just avoid the trill and shrill.

Related image


“Monica:
[complaining about her Thanksgiving] Did anyone ever give a hoot about what I wanted? NO, NO, NO, NO! And I’m just… [her voice gets very squeaky and high-pitched]
Chandler:
Okay, Monica, only dogs can hear you now. “

Friends, Season 1

Slow down:

If you ignore the horrible grammar (sorry my American friends) in the graphic below, you will see just why you should reduce your pace. Coupled with a high pitch you can end up sounding like Minnie Mouse, according to Speech Coach Patricia Fripp, if you speak too fast for your audience and they definitely will not get the gist of your message.

https://www.fripp.com/are-you-speaking-too-quickly/

Remember the first point in this article: own your space – that means YOU regulate the pace. Your audience is not going anywhere. They are yours to entertain.

Image result for speaking too fast cartoon

Avoid insipid expressions and don’t apologize:

  • ‘Hi’ and/or ‘guys’ (too casual seems sloppy)
  • ‘I just want to say’ (Just say it!’)
  • I’m sorry I’m a bit nervous’ (We immediately do not trust you or your message and can’t wait for you to leave the stage, because your nervousness makes us anxious)
  • ‘Um,”ok’, ‘like’ repeated use of ‘so’ (Filler words show us you are nervous and they are downright annoying, which means we listen for them instead of your message.)
  • ‘Oops I’m not very good with these electronic devices’ (See above)
  • Adverbs like ‘literally,’ ‘actually,’and ‘really.’ (They (in fact) add (very) little to your argument and (actually) become like filler words – irritating)
  • ‘Stuff,’ ‘things’ (Name them)

Be powerful:

“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.” – Malala Yousafzai