My childhood included institutions rich with ceremonies, from high church liturgy to high class educational institutions to high brow theater. And I decided I didn’t like ceremonies. My energy level certainly didn’t help me sit through formal events (ADD would be putting it mildly). So when I was a new leader I tried to engage in as little ceremony as possible, proud of my enlightened, humble posture. And my leadership suffered for it.
As I led and learned in a variety of settings I realized that it wasn’t ceremonies I disliked, it was empty ceremonies. The intensity of the ceremony should match the importance of what is honored. When someone drones on and on about a routine event, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. But when something truly significant goes down, a serious ceremony is not just helpful, it’s needed. Weddings and funerals would be cheapened without a full ceremony.
Ceremonies are an attempt to highlight something as worthy of special attention. And strategically planning for these moments can enhance almost every area of our lives. For example, my parents added a ceremony to the birthday parties of my childhood (though we didn’t call it a ceremony). Typically around present opening time (a common ceremonial event at birthday parties) all the guests were asked to share what they liked about the birthday boy or girl. We took turns speaking as the rest of the room listened. They could have just asked everyone to share something in private during the party. But having the entire room sit and listen as others shared, one by one, made it a much more special moment. And then my father always closed that “ceremony” by praying a blessing over the birthday child, laying hands on top of their head. That was anything but an empty ritual for me and my siblings.
It’s common for leaders to reward a team that has hit a big goal with a “share in private” approach. But spending five minutes to gather the rest of the staff and conduct a small ceremony would honor that team and inspire the rest of the organization.
Romance is in large part built through ceremonies. Getting down on one knee and opening a ring box transforms a simple question into a major moment. If you’re looking to heat up a relationship, consider increasing the intensity and frequency of your ceremonies together—putting on special clothes, going to special places, and saying special things.
What is most important to you? What would you like to draw special attention to? Does the intensity of your ceremonies match the importance of that area in your life? If not, look for ways to create lasting memories and strong values through more and better ceremonies.
This post is an answer to a discussion question in the book, How to Fail as a Leader. For more info about that book, go to www.howtofailasaleader.com.