Due to the COVID pandemic, the world has been turned upside down overnight.
As I was walking my dog, Opie, I stumbled across a hand-painted sign nestled between some trees that were just starting to show their fall colors.
From our first conversation, my client, Sara, shared about her struggles with confidence. In her experience, when Sara’s confidence took a hit, it did not waver but nose-dived. She described the sensation as a black hole, sucking hope and self-belief as if her worthiness itself vanished. Fortunately, Sara has well-developed resiliency tactics and always bounced back. However, the knowledge that her confidence could take such a profound hit when she least expected it was as unnerving as experiencing the hit itself. Sara was proud of the hard work the led to her senior leadership role in her organization. And clearly, she was motivated to crack the code on sustaining her confidence.
In a recent session, Sara described two situations. While the people and context of each situation were completely different, both ended with Sara feeling the black hole and responding in ways she recognizes were not her best self. By Sara’s request, we spent time walking in and around those two situations noticing things she may have missed at the time. Ultimately, Sara wanted to know why she responded as she did and to figure out how to better prepare to handle future situations differently.
Sara recognized that her confidence is rooted in her expertise and preparedness. She thinks thoroughly about situations and has amassed an incredible storehouse of knowledge. And this is exactly how Sara discovered her trapdoor. In moments where her perspective is publically challenged or Sara is asked for knowledge (typically by a superior) that she did not prepare for, she takes personal responsibility, feels as if she’s failed and shuts down. Sara finds herself completely emotionally hijacked, desperate to escape.
We revisited the two situations and over the course of our conversation, little bits of observation began to coalesce and curiosity grew into understanding. Sara realized that the kind of confidence she wants to build is rooted in deepening her curiosity. When she first made the connection, a strange look appeared on her face. Sara expressed that she was so sure that growing her confidence was tied to changing how others viewed her that she never considered that the key was something internal. Once she recognized that changing her mind about the root cause was the first step, Sara smiled. It looked like a huge weight fell from her shoulders and she sighed deeply. Sara landed on two key questions to drive new actions.
What can I learn that I don’t already know?
Sara recognizes that part of her preparation for meetings and presentations needs to include the permission to release perfection and the responsibility that perfection requires. Instead, Sara is choosing a mentality that curiosity is the best partner to expertise. “I want everyone I interact with to recognize both my competence and my curiosity. I’m as much a learner as a subject matter expert.”
How can I listen at a deeper level?
Sara knows that when she primarily focuses on herself as the consummate expert, her listening is very shallow. Why? Because when her focus is on making sure that her thoughts, advice and knowledge are being heard, there isn’t much room to notice the person with whom she’s conversing. Instead, Sara is committing to growing her active listening skills. She wants to focus more fully on what the other person is saying (verbally and non-verbally!) and asking questions to clarify and confirm what is said. By doing so, Sara will avoid allowing her own goals to get in the way of hearing the other person.
As we say our goodbyes, Sara shakes her head. “This was definitely not how I thought I was going to grow my confidence.” She flashes another smile and says, “I had to figure out what was important to me about confidence in order to find it. And then it was if it was just waiting to be discovered.”
Perhaps, Sara’s story is helpful in your quest for growing confidence. Or perhaps, you have another obstacle to climb. Either way, Sara’s discovery raises a few other potent questions worth a few moments of reflection.
What obstacle(s) are you facing that you assume have an external solution?
When was the last time you felt someone really listened to you?
When was the last time you really listened to someone, when they were clearly in the middle of the conversation rather than your thoughts, feelings, advice or knowledge?
When I walk through the gym doors for those Friday night basketball games, I feel at home. The aroma of hot dogs on the grill fills the air as the sound of basketballs bouncing fills my ears. Cheering, chanting, joyful laughter, kids hamming it up, and parents taking pictures fill the evening. It takes a multitude of volunteers to ensure the evening is successful, and yet I have only one job — to sit and listen.
This is a basketball league for kids with disabilities, and my only job the entire evening is to sit with various families and listen to how their week has been. I ask them about the highs and lows of their week. I might hear about a good day at school, or a not so great outing to Target where a tantrum has ensued, and the family feels embarrassed. I might hear about an encouraging note they received, or about their child being called mean names on the playground. I hear about fun days and hard doctor’s appointments. By sitting and listening, I learn about their lives and their perspectives. Sitting with them helps me to learn where I can stand.
As it’s been said, where you stand depends on where you sit. While this phrase has probably been around since Plato, back in the late 1940s there was a manager at a company, and one of his employees left the company for another position. Allegedly, the story goes that the rest of the employees weren’t pleased the person left and began to complain to the manager. The manager’s response – “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”
I wonder if the manager was trying to model for his team that we form judgments and beliefs from our own perspectives? The employees weren’t pleased their workload would increase. The person that left had an exciting position that was now available to be filled. Two perspectives based on where they sat. Perhaps the manager was trying to show that we need to open ourselves to see things from other vantage points? To sit with someone and listen.
When we listen and connect with grace and empathy, we can gain a different perspective of the truths and beliefs of others. By listening and sharing, we exchange ideas and challenge and expand our thoughts. We can get curious, ask deeper questions, and gain a better understanding of how others see the world through their own lens.
The next time you are in a conversation or meeting where you think things should go just like you want them to, remember there are others out there just as passionate, and maybe just as right as you are. Dive into that. Say, “Tell me more about that.”
Who do you need to sit and listen to? What questions do you need to ask? How can you connect with grace and empathy? Whether you’re at the dinner table, seated around a board room, in a zoom meeting, or at a basketball game, who can you sit with that might make a difference on where you stand?
I’m learning to stand in awe of everyone who is working to build their own self awareness and realize the unlimited potential they truly have.
Several years ago, a video circulated on social media that showed a former CIA operative describing the most significant lesson she had learned from being undercover. “Everybody believes they are the good guy,” she said, describing how her encounters with our country’s declared enemies had shown her how both sides were completely convinced they were doing the right thing. And in being so convinced, there was only one way to view the other side: wrong. She also describes how third parties could then leverage this division if it benefited them for the two parties to continue to be pitted against each other. We’ve seen that play out in many ways over the last few years.
Her message stuck with me, particularly the ways it plays out in our day-to-day lives and interactions with others.
How does our perspective blind us from what others are seeing, thinking, and feeling?
As I reflect on the stories I often share when my husband asks “How was your day?” it strikes me that I am often the hero of my story. I’m the “good guy,” the one who had the good idea, or landed the difficult task, or had the needed conversation.
Frequently, my story involves the obstacles put in place by others that I had to overcome. Would I recognize myself in the version of the same story told by those I’ve interacted with? By those who placed the “obstacles”? I have to wonder.
I also see this “good guy” concept show up when we are partnering with organizations in the work of Values Based Leadership. In our conversations, we use stories of interactions from our own work lives to illustrate concepts of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, or feedback.
For example, one of my colleagues often shares a story of an interaction where her need for efficiency was conflicting with a co-worker’s need for collaboration, and the feedback conversation that resulted from their conflict.
Almost without fail, those listening to the story relate to my colleague as “the good guy” in the story, and the co-worker as the obstacle to getting the work done. They tend to see it first as a clear cut right vs wrong scenario. The funny thing is, when the story is told from the perspective of the collaborative co-worker, the listeners see her as “the good guy.” My efficient colleague becomes the heartless task-master. Same story, different perspective.
What new possibilities might be opened up – in our work lives, our home lives, and our nation – if we could walk through our days with the idea that everyone we encounter believes they are the good guy?
The next time you find yourself reacting to the actions of others that seem clearly wrong, try pausing and trying to look at the situation from their perspective. What are they seeing, thinking, and feeling that might have led them to believe that their action was the right one? After the pause, ask some curious questions to try to understand their point of view. You may be surprised to find that they become more interested in understanding you as well.
Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day. –Anonymous
In a rapidly changing world, leaders are constantly navigating change and trying to gain the competitive edge. By embracing people’s differences, we can help spark innovation, better understand and serve customers, and drive sustainable growth. Yet, organizations continue to struggle when it comes to building and maintaining inclusive workplaces.
It’s a systemic issue that’s not just isolated to the workplace. It’s part of a much more global conversation that’s rooted in thousands of years of feelings and experiences and cultural norms that we see coming to life every day in current events around the country.
We’re all a product of our environments and upbringings, and there are a lot of deep feelings around this topic. We get triggered in different ways when it comes up. So, what if we started honoring our differences and harnessing our energy toward building strong teams that value everyone’s perspectives, ideas, and contributions?
The benefits of diverse and inclusive organizations
When I think about being inclusive in the workplace, it means that we’re all operating as one team on an even playing field. It means building an environment where all associates feel appreciated for their unique characteristics and are therefore comfortable sharing their ideas and other aspects of their true and authentic selves.
Every single one of us is who we are because of our life experiences, and we each have a unique path that we’ve taken that gives us our own unique view of the world. Our unique view allows us to connect the dots in ways that no one else can.
When a company embraces diversity and builds inclusive teams, it allows for multiple points of perspective to be put on a problem. Ultimately resulting in more potential solutions to resolve that issue.
I’ll never have the experiences of a woman or an immigrant or someone who attended UVA. I’ll never be able to look at an issue with that very personal perspective. Diversity allows for a multitude of perspectives – all unique and valid. The more diverse our teams are the more perspectives we will have on a topic which in turn will increase our likelihood of identifying the best solutions.
Different perspectives drive growth
We should challenge ourselves to appreciate the differences of others and see them as potential drivers of change. As diversity increases so does the capacity for more creative solutions to be brought to the table. Otherwise we can fall victim to inertia brought about by complacency with the status quo.
Case in point, a few years ago I was at a meeting where everyone graduated from the same college. We all had had the same professors and were all taught the same curriculum. As we sat around the table trying to find a solution for a big problem, it quickly became clear that we were all landing on the same solution – and we were getting very stuck.
We couldn’t think outside of the box because we were all taught to think about this problem in one certain way. It was a real eye-opening experience for me. Because in hindsight, it was so obvious that if we had had a more diverse team around the table, the problem would have been resolved more quickly, more creatively, and would have resulted in a more profitable solution.
Leveraging values to build more inclusive workplaces
Inclusivity implies that we’re all on the same page and operate as one team – and that’s what Values Based organizations are all about. Values Based organizations have a defined set of values and behaviors that each associate agrees to when coming to work. They set the stage for how we behave, make decisions and desire to do business; ie: “this is what leadership looks like at our company; this is how we conduct business; this is how we define success, etc”.
These values and behaviors give us a platform to reference where, regardless of our diverse backgrounds, we’re all on the same page. No matter who you are or where you’re from, clearly defined organizational values and behaviors give us a shared compass to operate from.
Consistently referencing those values and aligned behaviors creates a better opportunity to build more inclusive workplaces. When we reference them, the conversation is no longer personal. It isn’t about you, who you are or what you believe in. It becomes about what we all believe in as a company.
Values are the lifeblood of thriving families, communities, and organizations.
Values drive our behaviors.
They reveal and reinforce what is truly important to each of us.
At an organizational level, values clarify what it means for everyone to be on the same page. When properly leveraged, values tell a powerful story for an organization. One that inspires people and creates a beautiful sense of who we are – our culture.
The role of leadership is a display of how values reveal purpose.
Leaders who boldly live their values serve as both a mirror and map. A leader’s mirror and map are like two sides of a leadership coin:
The leader’s mirror is about self-reflection and self-awareness.
The leader’s map is about attention toward others.
One Side of the Coin: The Leader’s Mirror
With a mirror, the reflective leader is aware of how one’s values are revealed in their daily behavior and how they affect others.
While there are many notable attributes we might “see in the mirror,” there’s one that shows a commitment to both humility and personal development: changing your mind.
How open are you to changing your mind? Not occasionally, but as a daily posture? This isn’t about indecisiveness or poor decision-making. It’s about the deep-rooted pursuit of the life-long learner.
Sometimes you change your mind as the result of new information and learning. Expanded understanding can lead toward positive change. Other times, a change comes as the result of discovering a new vantage point.
Whether in the moment or at a later time, do you ever notice something you missed in a meeting or conversation? Or do you recognize you made an assumption that you need to investigate?
The effectiveness of a mirror increases with the precision of your observations. The more open you are to see what is happening around you the more likely you are to recognize what you previously missed.
A leader recognizes that there are always options in how something or someone can be understood. Perspective is seen as a choice.
Sometimes, to maintain our values, we must reorient our behavior to reflect an expanded perspective of how our values are best expressed.
The Other Side of the Coin: The Leader’s Map
The map is the other side of the leadership coin.
When you look across the landscape of your organization’s hopes and dreams, what do you see? Not the specifics per se, but the climate.
How do you hold the tension between hope and failure?
Some leaders tend to avoid this tension, opting to internalize the struggle and put on the best face possible so that others stay positive. For others the tendency is to criticize and ruthlessly eliminate failure as an option. Still others are eternal optimists. They’ll go so far as to constantly suggest, “we’re knocking it out of the park.” As if life is a metaphorical game, and we’re all superstar sluggers.
Understanding the feelings and needs of others begins with acceptance.
What if you accepted the tension of unequivocal hope and failure?
Acceptance can be sobering and powerful. Most importantly it is the first step for any leader to inspire courage and exploration.
For leaders, holding the tension of hope and failure begins in one’s own life.
It is impossible to be the principal guide of a flourishing organization without accepting your own hopes and failures without judgment. Yet it is not natural to accept our own flaws and failures. It also seems difficult for us to believe we are worthy of our hopes and to pursue them.
As a leader you have the choice to accept that your failure and hope is a sacredly held tension. If you make that choice to hold this tension you become a lighthouse for acceptance in others.
Organizations with these kinds of leaders create cultures that attract the right people with the best talent.
Building the Value of Your Leadership Coin
As you continue to write the story of 2018, what’s one thing you can do to increase your self-awareness or the quality of your attention concerning others?
Is there a word of intention that can serve as a reminder to you throughout the coming weeks and months?
Finally, is there someone with whom you can share your intention?