“Love is supreme and unconditional; like is nice, but limited.” –Duke Ellington
I recently took on a media project at work that would be both challenging for me as an individual, as well as an exciting opporunity for my team. The scope of the work was well within the range of my experience and area of expertise and I felt comfortable accepting the task with a high level of confidence. Yet, I admittedly had a hint of uncertainty up-front. I had never attempted to execute this new and cutting edge approach to a media production.
The project’s producer expressed her confidence in our team to achieve the task with excellence and timeliness. During the initial creative meeting, we scoped out the big picture of what we wanted to accomplish and then came to some agreements on the specfic premise we wanted to communicate with our video.
As the meeting came to a close, she rose from the table with a smile on her face. As she exited the room, she looked back and reassured me, “Let me know if you need anything. You have my unconditional support!”
Unconditional support? What was joy and excitement near the end of the meeting, turned to cold sweat and fear in a heartbeat. Her comment haunted me for the next several days as I prepared the project details for the team. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her to clarify her comment about “unconditional support.”
As I scoped out the project, I became even more nervous when we got into the details of how we would attempt to execute its production. The task had a lot of moving pieces and would require a great deal of scheduling and planning before the project actually even kicked off. Once the project actually began, we were faced with the prospect that we would have to learn some things as we went along. A great deal of trial and error would be necessary to learn what we needed to learn before making any final conclusions on the production. We had plenty of transferable skills for the project, but there were some twists to this request.
Every detail began to feel like one more step down into a deep canyon of doubt, where the only sound that echoed off of its walls were,
At this moment, I faced the horrifying notion that this project could fail. What if I screw this thing up? What if she doesn’t like what we create? What if we don’t meet her demands?
It was there, down in the valley, within the shadow of failure, her words became clear to me. There are conditions for unconditional. She would unconditionally support me—on a couple of key conditions—I got the job done right, on budget, and on time!! Ughhhhh!!!
The reality is, there are always conditions to unconditional—certain expectations that one person has for another person in a business or personal relationship. Only after we understand the core conditions, norms, and values of that relationship are we truly free to excel and become all we can be. Freedom certainly isn’t free; it comes with a cost. Unconditional support or love has a certain conditions—it comes with a certain set of norms and expectations, which if not met, can strain the trust of a relationship.
Clients and managers can’t read your mind, and don’t always know what your strengths or weaknesses are. Sometimes we don’t even know what will get us in over our heads. This is why a good Self Leader gets clarity up-front about norms and expectations, or conditions, on a given project or task. If at any point in the process you become unclear about your role on a project, ask for clarification and understand the conditions that apply to “unconditional”—then experience the complete joy have having unconditional support.
Jason Diamond Arnold
Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action