At the end of 2022, I traveled to Papua New Guinea on a service trip, where our theme was, “Transformation begins with me, not we.”
I was one of 60 coaches who facilitated a process called “Transformation Tables,” where we discussed value words to help leaders think differently about the principles that guide their decisions and actions.
A transformation table is where people gather to learn positive values and how to live them. During the week, we connected with 1,400-plus Papua New Guineans in five cities. I traveled to Rabaul and Kokopo for my week of service.
While preparing for this trip, we were taught that the people of Papua New Guinea focus first on relationships, then on productivity. This did not surprise me. In “Behavioral Intelligence” classes, I teach that we should focus first on people, then on tasks. We will accomplish more when we prefer people.
Experiencing this life lesson in action connected with me stronger than the verbal reminder.
When I arrived in Rabaul, Nathaniel was assigned to be my “handler.” His job was to accompany me throughout the week. On top of being my translator, bodyguard and tour guide, Nathaniel was learning how to facilitate transformation tables. As for me, besides sharing my tips with Nathaniel, I was given a hands-on opportunity to see and feel relationships in action.
My first relationship experience was mid-week, in between events. During each table, we discussed the same chapter about hope. The people participating at the table changed, but for Nathaniel and me, the topic was the same, repeatedly.
Rather than being in the moment and sharing a new thought, I gave the same answer that I always give when discussing this chapter. That approach was more efficient in my mind. I spent less time thinking of a new answer and more time focusing on my facilitation strategies.
Nathaniel gave different answers during every table discussion. I commented to Nathaniel that I was enjoying learning more about him and his family with the different answers that he is sharing during each table. His response to me was matter of fact: “Of course my answers are different. This morning we met with a women’s group. I wanted to relate to them, so I shared more about my wife. Yesterday, we met with businessmen, so my answers were more appropriate for that audience.”
Duh. Of course. I know the value of adapting my responses for the audience. Customizing our conversation will connect us and create our relationship. Yet, I’m not doing it. My efficient mind got in the way of the opportunity to deepen relationships.
The second time I experienced Nathaniel’s relationship habit was later in the week when he gave me a gift. His wife, Lu, made me a “meri blouse” (a popular women’s top/dress), complete with pockets. One evening, he asked Lu what he could give me and then proceeded to show her pictures of me. They were looking at the outfits that I wore throughout the week so that the pattern and colors that they chose for me would match my wardrobe.
Wow. I felt so preferred and loved by their intentionality for my gift.
I don’t like to be tasked. I don’t appreciate it when people treat me like another checkmark on their list. Yet, I fall into my productivity habits and commit this sin too often. I did it when I chose to give the same answers during the tables. Thankfully, I did not fail the entire week. I did put a lot of thought and energy into the gift that I gave Nathaniel.
If we are not intentional, then we will return to our behavioral preferences and habits. It’s not bad to be focused on tasks. It is important at times. However, we can never go wrong focusing on people before the task.
Thank you, Nathaniel, Lu and the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation volunteers, for loving, preferring and challenging me to continue to grow outside of my comfort zone. Transformation began and will continue with me.
Kathie Rotz is an executive leadership coach and speaker with Unity Consulting and the author of “You Have Superpowers” online learning program.