Imagine speaking in a beautiful auditorium with 1,200 seats. In it are 1,000 students having fun, laughing, getting the message. As you conclude to rowdy applause, the student affairs staff member in charge comes up to you, and the first thing she says is, “Sorry we didn’t fill the place. There were a couple groups that weren’t here, and believe me, they’re going to hear about it tomorrow!”
She just had 1,000 students at an educational program, and hopefully, they learned something. But, she was focused on the 200 empty seats. Instead of feeling great about the 1,000 students who came and enjoyed themselves, she made the self-defeating choice of focusing on the 200 who stayed home to play video games.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to start celebrating those who come. Stop worrying so much about those who don’t.
As leaders, we naturally wish that everyone valued our efforts. We want complete and total approval of what we do, and it bugs us when we get less than 100% support. You know that you’re never going to please all of the people all of the time, but yet you still beat yourself up by focusing on those who don’t love you.
If you have 100 members in your group, and only 15 show up for a service event, the natural tendency is to get bent out of shape about it. 85 members blew you off, or didn’t see any value in the event. Do they dislike you? Are you doing a bad job? Maybe the work you do just isn’t that important to the members of your organization? You judge your entire contribution to the group based on those who didn’t come.
Instead, focus on the 15 who came. Give them an excellent experience. Make it such a great experience that they go back and make the 0ther 85 wish they had come. At your next meeting, have a couple of them stand up and share their cool experiences. Thank them publicly for giving their time and their effort. Have a smile on your face and exude happiness and satisfaction.
Instead of focusing your energy negatively, focus it positively. This is a choice you make, whether you’re doing it consciously or not.
Next time you do a service event, plan for 15 instead of 100. If 20 show up, even better. Celebrate those who come. The next time, you’ll have 30. It just works that way. People want to do things that they identify as positive. If you’re complaining and feeling negative all the time, why would anyone want to join you for an afternoon of anything?
If you’re the president of a student government or an IFC, for example, stop focusing on those groups who don’t value your council enough to show up. Focus on those who did make the commitment. Reward them with a valuable, interesting, fun meeting. Make them want to come back next time.
The alternative is to fine and penalize the groups who didn’t show up, but that’s the negative leadership route. Instead, give those who came a great experience. Commit yourself to making your meetings more meaningful, positive and interesting. Reach out to those who didn’t come and let them know that they were missed. Tell them the cool things you are planning for the next meeting, ask them if they have any ideas for what they’d like to see discussed, and ask them to join to make good things happen.
Be positive. Stop killing yourself and the morale of your group by focusing on what isn’t there.
I’ll end by telling you a secret. Sure, I like it when there is a full auditorium full of enthusiastic audience members. But, I also really enjoy a group of 20 people who chose to be there in front of me, ready to learn something. Success isn’t in the numbers. It’s not about getting a certain percentage of members to show up. It’s about giving people something of value and celebrating those who show up, ready to learn and be challenged. Better things happen with a small number of committed and interested people than in a room full of people simply avoiding a fine or penalty. Ask any professor. Ask any boss. Ask any preacher.
Give me those who want to be there, and I’ll make them glad they came.
T.J. Sullivan is co-founder and CEO of CAMPUSPEAK. He is a member of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. Check out his blog at www.tjsullivan.com.