Over the weekend I heard the story of a mom who, when asked what moments were bringing her joy as she endured the COVID-19 stay at home orders, shared a photo of her young daughter blowing the top off of a dandelion in their backyard. The mom, according to the story, found herself lost in the pure enjoyment of her child as they watched the seeds spread in the wind. And, just for a moment, she was able to put aside the impacts physical distancing and isolation have had on her and her family.
In reflecting about the experience, she recalled that only a few days before, she and her husband were marveling at their lovely, weed-free lawn. Now with her daughter spreading hundreds of dandelion seeds, she watched as the dream of a weed-free lawn drifted away and was struck by the contrast in perspectives. For her, the dandelions represented an intrusive weed but, for her child, those same weeds offered the promise of a wish.
The idea of weeds and wishes really stood out to me in reflecting on my journey as a leader both at home and in the “office.” As we move beyond our current circumstances, I think the ability to see things from different perspectives will be the hallmark of successful leaders in the new world of work. And, if I’m honest with myself, I often see only my weeds rather than the wishes of others. If you, like me, need to grow in this area, here are some key areas to focus your personal development energy.
Empathy – A 2015 research study by DDI found that empathy was the most critical driver of overall performance in every aspect they explored. And, in 2019 Business Solver’s State of Workplace Empathy report suggests that empathy matters now more than ever – a statement that’s likely even more true with the pandemic. For a leader, having the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and truly appreciate their perspective is critical to building an inclusive and engaging workplace. Increasing your capability to empathize with others is possible with practice. Here you can find a few easy practices that will help increase your empathy so you are able to more readily see other people’s perspectives.
Humility – The first key to seeing things from another’s perspective is creating an environment where they will share. Authentic humility is a necessary precursor for creating psychological safety that enables people to share different points of view and drive creativity. When leaders understand the limits of their expertise and are truly open to challenge, their teams are willing to risk sharing different perspectives. But, as humans, we tend to be overconfident in what we know or the transferability of our knowledge base to new areas. If you don’t believe me, just check out how many pandemic experts there are on Twitter! So, if you want to build a culture where people are willing to let you see when they have a different perspective, you’ll need to be genuinely humble. Fortunately, like empathy, humility is something you can work on. If you want to practice more genuine humility, here are a few quick tips:
- Spend time listening to others. Demonstrate that you value them by investing your time in hearing what matters to them most.
- Ask for help when you need it. Successfully achieving things through stubborn self-reliance can easily become a form of pride. While its good to be confident in your ability to solve problems, being willing to ask for help is a good way to demonstrate that you know the value others can add through their unique capabilities.
- Practice self-reflection. Take time to critically review your interactions, the language you use, and how you approach working with others.
Appreciation – Last year Paul White published a great GovLoop article on why employee recognition programs aren’t working. In it, he encourages leaders to shift from recognition to authentic appreciation. Among other things, White notes that authentic appreciation focuses on performance plus the person’s intrinsic value. By expressing appreciation, leaders acknowledge the unique capabilities of each individual and the value that those capabilities create for the team and the organization. Practicing authentic appreciation requires leaders to look more closely at what their team members are accomplishing. And to validate the underlying capabilities each individual brings to the team. This careful examination leads to better understanding and an improved ability to recognize when someone may hold a differing point of view.
I’ve heard a lot of hopeful predictions about the lasting effects of the pandemic on making work more human. And, I sincerely believe that we’re experiencing a shift in ways of leading that will continue to acknowledge the bottom-line benefits of human-centered organizational cultures. If you want to hone your capabilities to lead in this new era of work, starting with empathy, humility, and recognition are great first steps.
Tim Bowden is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is partner at Gotham Government Services, and is most energized when he’s exploring how the intersection of culture, people, and strategy drive business results. For nearly 20 years he has collaborated with clients in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to address mission-critical challenges in the areas of culture, leadership development, and learning. Additionally, Tim has experience in the design and analysis of survey-based measures of culture, employee engagement, and interpersonal skills. He has provided executive advisory, learning, and organizational culture programs for the Marine Corps Systems Command, Treasury Executive Institute, Department of Labor, and the Naval Sea Systems Command.