On Independence 02 – The Eternal Fight Between Pride and Productivity

LoisWhen is it okay to ask for help if you’re disabled, and when isn’t it? That’s today’s $60 million question.

A few weeks ago I needed to extract information from 50 business cards. Yes, it would have been quicker, and easier, and more effective for me to ask a sighted person to help me. Instead I chose to do it on my own. And I managed, with the help of a clever little app called Braigo, which converted the text into a form I could access. But here’s the thing: that task took me 3 full days; three full days when I had other tasks waiting for me.

Every day I face the same dilemma. Should I ask my husband/a friend/a family member/a random stranger walking down the road to help me do something. Or should I insist on proving to myself and others that I am able to do it despite being blind. Sadly, even though I know it’ll take me a lot longer to do it myself, that’s usually the choice I make.

So, today I’m asking myself why I do it?

Perhaps it’s a question of pride, of not wanting to feel like I’m always asking for help. Perhaps it’s my inherent stubbornness that refuses to acknowledge that my blindness means that some tasks are harder for me, or will take me longer. And yes, there is an immense sense of satisfaction of doing the things I can. But when faced with a mountain of items on my To Do List and a molehill of time in which to do them, even I have to admit that my insistence on doing things for myself isn’t always the most productive use of my time and energy.

Many of the blindness training centres around the world stress the need for independence in all aspects of life. And I understand why they do so –they want us to learn the crucial skill of figuring out how to do things on our own rather than taking the easy way out and asking our support system. Being forced to be independent teaches us that we can do far More than we believed possible. But I’ll admit that I sometimes wonder if the focus on doing things for ourselves might make us feel we’re failing if we reach out for assistance.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to stop doing things for myself. Nor am I going to stop learning new skills and techniques to make me more independent. Or constantly testing out new devices and apps to help me do so.

But maybe I should recognize that asking for help isn’t always taboo. That sometimes getting a sighted person to help me with a task will make me more productive and allow me to cross a few more items off my ever-growing To Do List. And that efficiency may be more important than pride and stubbornness.

Because, let’s face it, even sighted people have to ask for help sometimes, don’t they?

The photo show me working at my computer with a pile of business cards. Thanks to Craig Strachan for the photo.

Lessons from my Guide Dog: Me – a Control Freak?

Recently my guide dog, Fiji, has shown me in no uncertain terms that micromanagement does not work. I’ve always known I preferred being able to control what was happening around me, but had never thought of myself as a control freak… till now.

My first lesson in micromanagement happened 5 months ago when we introduced Fiji to the other dogs at home – a process that we had been thoroughly briefed on by the guide dog trainers. Remember that we needed to introduce a new member into a team that had long since sorted out their personalities (dog-alities? Canine-alities?) and their processes. Potentially it could have been a difficult time for everyone concerned.

On the drive home I gave my husband, Craig, long and detailed instructions on how we were going to proceed. Yet when it came down to it, all those instructions went straight out the window – which is where Fiji tried to go as soon as she saw the rest of her new doggy family. And very soon Fiji was playing happily as an integral part of the pack.

So much for my trying to micromanage the situation!

My second lesson on micromanagement took place a few weeks later. Though I had no issues with Fiji while we were walking our routes, she had a tendency to become highly excited when around people, which I felt I needed to manage as some people do not like dogs. I sought advice from the guide dog trainers and it helped… a bit.

Then it dawned on me that the times I was most stressed about the issue and tried hardest to keep her under tight control were the times my highly sensitive guide dog reacted to people most strongly. So I took a conscious decision to relax and only react if it was warranted… and the situation eased almost immediately. Once again it appeared that my trying to micromanage the situation was not the most effective response.

Since then I have tried to incorporate this learning into my leadership activities, and my life has become less complicated, less stressful and less busy. I’m trying to resist double checking that every task that the team needs to accomplish is being done. I’m trying to let people resolve their own minor conflicts while being available if I am needed. I’m also trying to let go control and trust in the process rather than planning every minute detail of every possible eventuality that might possibly occur.

I’m definitely not perfect and there are times I don’t get it right – either with the teams with whom I’m working, or with Fiji – but I’m finding there is less conflict and more collaboration since I’ve started trying to let go of control by micromanaging the team.

Confidence – a transferable Skill

A few weeks ago I wrote about how my levels of self-confidence had grown over the short time I had been working with my guide dog, Fiji. And that is still true. What I’ve realized is that the confidence has transferred to other areas in my life.

Whether it is having the confidence to apply to be considered as a speaker for PechaKucha Cape Town, when I usually avoid using PowerPoint slides (for those who don’t know, PechaKucha is a presentation format of 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide); or whether it is having the courage to walk over to a neighbour’s home on my own – no guide dog, no sighted guide – I have started doing things that I would have avoided several months ago, because my confidence has grown.

So, how could this be useful to a manager or team leader in the workplace?

Let’s say you have a member of your team who lacks confidence –someone with potential, a productive member of the organisation, but who simply lacks confidence. Imagine if you could help that team member grow in confidence in one single aspect of their work, or their life. That confidence could transfer back into other areas and could have a benefit to the overall performance of the team, not just the individual team member.

Expert on building self-confidence, James Hurford, has this to say, “When you ‘do what you cannot do’, you gain self-confidence. Even if you fail, you gain self-confidence because you were brave enough to look your fear in the eye and act anyway.”  

Helping your team to develop self-confidence could have a positive impact on your team and your organisation. Why not give it a try?
Find out more about James Hurford on

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