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Dare to Intrude

I set my computer to open to the desktop when it wakes. Clicking the locked button only took a moment, but it was an unnecessary step that I took several times a day. This is what Lean Manufacturer Paul Akers calls a two-second improvement. You probably need your computer password protected, so that’s likely not an improvement you would make. But I suspect there are a thousand things like that that you could do that would eliminate unnecessary steps in your work.

I’d intended to make this improvement for months, but only just now took the time to figure out how. What motivated me now was my father. At 94 and with macular degeneration, he magnifies the computer screen to 10 times its normal size. That means only a fraction of the desktop shows on his screen at a time. Finding a locked icon in the middle of the screen isn’t simple for him. For him, that change is a two-minute improvement at least. In fact, it could make the difference between him being productive and getting blocked before he really starts.

I credit my lean and assistant skills for my ability to help my parents live independently in their final years. My communication skills have been key as well. At the same time, this process helps me understand more deeply what excellence in organization and assisting other people really takes.

Like your exec, my parents have habits. Some habits serve them, some don’t. Some habits are conscious, some aren’t. I can best help them by observing them in action and noting where they get stuck. From there I offer options, which they are welcome to try or not.

Sounds simple enough. But when you deal with habits – especially unconscious habits – you can run into some interesting resistance.

My father is having trouble organizing his papers. He works in a chair with one TV table at his side. That table holds his active papers, his recent papers, and his food tray. He lays his food tray on top of the pile of papers when he eats. I marvel that the carpet around it isn’t covered with coffee stains. And yet you would be astounded at how much resistance the simple idea of moving a larger side table up from the basement engendered. Somehow, making that change seems to affirm an idea that their decline isn’t just temporary. I have my reading area tweaked to fine detail with everything I might need at my fingertips, but for them to tweak that area at all is admitting that dad might not be up to spending more time in his office ever again.

Your exec might resist improvement ideas for different reasons. But I can assure you, the dynamic is similar. Your recommendation might be interpreted as telling them what they have been doing is wrong. You might get arguments that make no sense – like I did (decorating issues, when there’s nothing decorative about the TV tray he uses.) You might have to probe gently to find out what the real concern is. But everything tells you something – even something as irrational as needing to leave a side table where it is for a once-a-year party. If you listen with your third ear (or your heart) you can find out what is at the heart of the matter.

An important communication practice is to frame things as experiments. I thought my father needed more than one cane, and dark canes that stand out. His light oak cane blends with the décor. I also thought he needed a tray that he could put on his walker to transport food. He doesn’t use his walker much, but when he does, it’s useful. So I bought him two canes and a walker tray. My parents resisted the gift. I was leaving for the airport to go home, so I told them to stick them in the closet if they didn’t want them, and I’d return them on my next visit.

This is a different role for me. We’re all in different roles with authority figures these days. Like you, I find myself doing things that might seem intrusive. I took over his email to weed out the spam. I went through his papers to organize them. I wondered at times if I wasn’t going too far. My dreams gave me perspective.

I dreamt that I was going through his materials and someone told me I couldn’t do that, as if I would be killed if I did. I wondered – what – was he a spy or undercover agent? I went through it all anyway, and found only goodness. I was not condemned for the intrusion.

Deep in my psyche there remained a message that probing was treason. That dream affirmed the rightness of my probe.

My father fell yesterday, and today the walker tray came in very handy. That event confirmed the rightness of this new role.

So go ahead and “commit treason,” too, if you see a need. Speak Strong. Listen to resistance with your heart. Let that guide your next step.

It’s how you support others, even if it feels intrusive at times.

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