I was recently at a workshop about adult development and one of the things that struck me was how hungry human beings are to be understood and accepted by others. Think back to your childhood- did others really “get” you? In your family (or in school), did you feel like others understood who you were as a person and did you feel completely accepted by them? Better yet, did others help you understand who you were as a person, and help you accept yourself?

I admit, it’s a strange question to ask- one I can easily dismiss. You might also ask what understanding and acceptance have to do with work. I believe that many of us were heavily influenced by how understood and accepted we were as kids. Those experiences and feelings had a profound effect on us. If this is true, imagine the positive impact we could have on others if we worked to understand and accept them in the workplace, even as adults.

My pet theory is that all human beings long for acceptance by others- sometimes they want to be liked, sometimes they want to be respected for what they’ve accomplished, sometimes they want to be appreciated for their competence- and when we don’t receive that understanding and acceptance, we act out. We seek acceptance in unhealthy ways, we feel demotivated or angry, we end up in conflict, or we mentally check out. Now imagine a workplace where people feel understood and accepted… wouldn’t that be a better place to work?

Maybe the blocking and tackling of leading through relationships- such as inspiration, empowerment, and trust- are really based on how much understanding and accepting there is between us. Maybe my effectiveness as a leader hinges on how much I understand and accept others, and how much I understand and accept myself? Accountability, feedback, expectations, and hard-nosed performance still matter, but how much better could I be, and how much better could the work environment be, if I work a lot harder to understand and accept others?



Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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