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How Do You Help Your People Achieve Greatness? by Heather R. Younger

By Heather Younger | Sep 13, 2021 | Comments Off

"We do not ever want to turn a blind eye to our employees. How much fruit would they be capable of bearing if they received a little more attention, a little more care."

Ignorance is Not Bliss
I have an entire chapter in my most recent book on leadership, The Art of Caring Leadership, on looking for greatness in those we lead. I detail how to take into consideration their strengths in order to better lead them and guide your organization to success. The art of leadership is perfected and achieves greater success when the leading extends beyond just the hands of leadership. The more you know about your employees’ strengths, the better your team will work.

While leadership can feel very lonely in theory, especially for leaders who are part of a one-person team, it is an action that thrives the more perspectives it takes into consideration. A leader who makes decisions without consulting others comes across as self-centered. Leaders, like all human beings, are imperfect and we have limited perspectives and often very particular points of view.


A Plumb Metaphor
Think of it in terms of this story. When I first moved into my house back in 2007, I barely noticed a big purple tree in our front yard. Fast forward a bit, my neighbors are moving away and they come over to say goodbye. She mentions how grateful she was for all the plums they got from our tree. It was a plum tree! I had a fruit-bearing tree in my yard for months without even noticing it! Luckily, my neighbor was able to put some of the plums to good use, but I wonder how many grew and died without ever being used.

We do not ever want to turn a blind eye to our employees. How much fruit would they be capable of bearing if they received a little more attention, a little more care. Heck, even just looking is the key sometimes. Imagine that, their talents on full display for anyone to see if you just stop and observe for a mere matter of minutes.

I don’t know about you, but I can attest I know what a plum looks like. I really just didn’t ever look. But the plums were right there, plumb in the middle of my yard.


What’s the Plum Tree in your Life?
In the chapter of my book on looking for and leveraging greatness, I detail some actionable steps leaders can take to notice more.

The first way to do this is by looking for the things that make your employees shine. Spend some time with them, ask them key questions and learn what it is that sets their hearts on fire. Whether work related or not, these details are invaluable and establish a deeper connection between leadership and employees.


A Fruitful Environment
There is something else that is just as important as watching for these shining moments: provide your employees a space to shine in. Begin meetings with casual discussion about people’s lives, listen to what it is they spend their time talking about, or what excites them. Make sure their position gives them room to take risks and innovate. If you manage employees who perform a lot of the “busy work” for your organization, then present them with a new challenge or task that expands their horizons more.

If you have routine meetings or performance reviews, then incorporate interview questions that get your team to consider their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes people are very in tune with their best skills and lesser abilities. Asking someone what they can improve in and what they excel in can be very telling for a leader who has less time to devote to observational activities. The environment for conversations with leadership can be the perfect place to catch the driving passions of your team, the things that make their eyes light up.

Find Outside Support
It can be hard to be the sole driver of an initiative and one that requires deeper connections with all your employees is a tall order. I do encourage leaders to give as much of themselves as they can while trying to get to know their employees. I recognize that there are human limitations. To compensate for our own fallibility, I always recommend a secondary source of information. Your personal research might not unearth all the skills and talents of your team. Oftentimes, your employees aren’t even aware of all of their special talents. It’s better for everyone to also study your team’s strengths through an outside source.

One of the best ways to know and see where your employees produce their richest fruits is by using assessments to gauge their strengths. I love the StrengthsFinder assessment. Once you pin down their strengths you have the fun job of making sure they can utilize their skills and maximize their strengths. Trust me when I say, it is fun for both the employee and their leader when the employee discovers the best that’s inside of them. People thrive doing what they are good at, and we tend to enjoy it more too.

Other Ways to Harvest
Apart from going to the employee themselves, or to their scores on assessments, there are other means of discovering your teams’ strengths.

● Social or intranet posts
● All staff feedback
● Team successes and failures


After exercising each of these principles to uncover your team’s strengths, you will be well-equipped to open the doors for your employees so that they may thrive.

Without considering your team’s strengths and giving them opportunities to use them, your organization can suffer. Organizations that don’t offer fertile soil for your employees to grow in find themselves held back by things like: revenue losses, tarnished reputation, lost customers and a lack of faith in leadership.

Be a part of their success story and they will be the fruits of yours.

Buy Heather's book today, "The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations" 

 

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The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Employee Empowerment by Heather R. Younger

By Heather Younger | Aug 04, 2021 | Comments Off

You help guide the employee teaching them to fly, and then you show them to the runway and watch as they take flight of their own accord.

A Common Misconception

Frequently a common theme I speak on is self-leadership, however that is not the focus of today. But a common sub-theme of self-leadership is delegation, or knowing when to pass things from your plate to a fellow team member’s plate. There is a frequent misconception that delegating tasks from your to-do list to someone else’s is the same thing as employee empowerment.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Employee empowerment is the theme I’m focusing on here today and I want to start out by clarifying the difference between delegation and true empowerment.

Employee empowerment is promoting the self-actualization of another team member. It is setting them up for success and then stepping back to observe their work from the stands as a supportive fan. Perhaps my favorite analogy for employee empowerment is the runway. You help guide the employee teaching them to fly, and then you show them to the runway and watch as they take flight of their own accord.

Clearly, empowerment is not the same as the shared responsibilities of delegation, and there are a lot more ways to empower your employees than assigning them more tasks.

Clear Expectations

The first means of empowering your employees starts where all things begin, with communication. What’s at stake when it comes to communication? Well among the general confusion and setbacks poor communication causes, there is also money on the line. An article published by SHRM entitled “The Cost of Poor Communication” states, “David Grossman reported in “The Cost of Poor Communications” that a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees.”

This reminds me of a quote I’ve heard one of my team members refer to, “specificity drives accountability, which drives results”. The core of this statement rings true, the more clear we can be in communicating our expectations, the less room for error there will be, and the greater the chances of a favorable outcome.

The power of clear communication is seen when entire organizations are united in their mission, vision, values and goals. That looks like a well-oiled machine moving forwards at great speeds gaining success at every step of the way. If the entire team knows the foundation of all expectations is the mission, vision and values, there is a greater sense of loyalty all around.

This can prove difficult, especially when organizations are going through restructuring or mergers, or even just identity crises. A close supporter of mine, Rich Gassen, offers a powerful example of how important this clear purpose is for organizations. He realized this importance and set out on a mission to establish a clear foundation at his organization, even if that meant tearing down an old system and rebuilding from the ground up.

Risk Taking

Rich’s example demonstrates the risk involved when empowering your employees. Had his mission gone south, it could have caused a multitude of issues for the organization. True empowerment is risky. But that’s half the point. If your employees aren’t challenged to think outside the box and try new and risky solutions, then their personal growth will be stunted as well as the overall success of the organization.

The plane could crash once it leaves the runway, but if it never takes off in the first place there is a zero percent chance of success. The hazard with allowing your employees to work with generous margins of error, is knowing how to react when the risks do turn south, when the errors do occur.

Caring Leaders must be accepting of errors. Leaders can be firm and constructive, while also supportive and a catalyst for that employees’ personal development. Fear of retribution is a huge deterrence from opportunities for success.

Jo Bauler in her book, Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers wrote, “As the fear center of the brain becomes activated, activity in the problem-solving centers of the brain is diminished”. Fear counteracts productivity and restricts the borders of the mind inhibiting critical thinking.

Be a Resource

My last tip for how to successfully empower your team is a third key to setting them up for success. You cannot ask someone to complete a puzzle without giving them the pieces. Just so, leaders must take care to provide all the necessary resources for their team to successfully launch their planes into flight.

A team without resources feels devalued and replaceable. I correlate this experience to being stuck with your hands tied, left helpless facing a goal, with no means to achieve it. You can read more about the hopelessness that a lack of resources can cause here.

The Gift of Empowerment

Empowerment is a gift, not complex in the way in which it is given, and a gift that is realized through the actions of the receiver. That is why it is so important that leaders go about empowering their employees in the right way. One slip up, an unclear direction, a harsh retort, or a missing resource, can set up your employee for failure and affect the overall success of your organization.

Be the gift of empowerment to your people, show them you care.

 

Buy Heather's book today, "The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations"  >>

 

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Corporate Change Post-Covid: A Cultural Audit by Heather R. Younger

By Heather Younger | Jul 06, 2021 | Comments Off

Maybe we should be considering how right now after so many unexpected turns of events, it might be the perfect time for change.

The Hitch With Change

Human beings are often complacent creatures. How many of you want to make little, or big life changes and lack the motivation? So often we think tomorrow I will eat healthier, be more productive, wake up earlier, make the right choices, and so often we continue to live in our comfortable patterns. 

On a grand scale our world just went through a dramatic and unexpected change. Covid-19 threw everyone into a turmoil. Many times, when people go through a sudden life change, they come out with a new perspective on life. Take the current labor shortage for instance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in April alone, 4 million people quit their jobs. Four million people! That’s insane. It is the highest quitting rate since the Bureau was created in 2000. This flux of people leaving their jobs is a direct response to the effects of the global pandemic.

Is this the Perfect Time for Change?

Maybe we should be considering how right now after so many unexpected turns of events, it might be the perfect time for change. As so many employees are leaving their workplaces, it really is a crucial time to listen to and meet the needs of the employees you still have.  Many of the employees who are returning to work, and are not quitting, still have changes in mind that they would like to see. 

When was your company’s last cultural audit? I recommend that you immediately begin to run cultural audits to assess the wants and needs of your newly returned workforce. If there’s one thing we learned from this pandemic, it’s that there should be no more waiting until tomorrow. I encourage you to encourage your entire organization to present any and all ideas for changes, no matter how big or small, that they have on their minds. 

STEP ONE: Listening

The first step in running a cultural audit should be listening. Gather as much feedback as possible. Host listening sessions. Make sure to discuss any insecurities about the future of the workplace whether it’s returning to in-person, hybrid or staying remote. 

Some employees are less likely to speak up at a round-table or in a company orchestrated listening session, so accompany this action with a survey series. Promote anonymous feedback. The more details you can extract about changes people want the easier it will be to enact those changes. 

A large oversight when organizations tune in and begin listening throughout their ranks, is the things that remain unsaid. What isn’t being talked about? I think of the expression, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” well in this case, it can. The more you can learn about your employees, the better you can serve them, and the better they will serve the company overall. 

Part of the listening process is recognizing that your employees don’t always respond to surveys and audits. The reality is, many will feel uncomfortable and unsafe, and some just won’t care enough to respond. When the majority of employees are more comfortable leaving concerns unspoken, it is a clear indicator that the work environment is more toxic than safe. 

So work to create a culture of listening where less things remain unspoken, your employees feel safe, and you are able to tailor your response and plan for change better. Show your employees you really care about uncovering the truth of the matter. 

STEP TWO: Action

Once you unearth as many of the unsaid things as you can, it’s time for the action planning. Because what you don’t act on, can and definitely will hurt you. I discuss this extensively in one chapter of my book, The Art of Caring Leadership.  

The last part of The Culture of Listening is connecting the dots. Where your organizations’ leaders must take all the feedback and intentionally mull it over, make an action plan, and then communicate back to their employees each step of the way. 

By beginning the cultural audit process with in-depth listening you won’t leave any stone unturned. The cultural revival occurring in our societies will not only take place outside the walls of your organizations. It probably has already entered them by way of your employees and needs to be cared for and supported as new or improved cultures take root. 

The Next Step

If you are interested in improving your company culture by way of listening more, then feel free to take advantage of this free lesson in listening that I’m offering from the Caring Leadership Academy. 

 

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Transforming America’s Workplaces: An Infertile Place for Microaggressions by Heather R. Younger

By Heather Younger | May 26, 2021 | Comments Off


Microaggressions

Have you ever witnessed or been the recipient of a microaggression? If you are unsure, the answer is probably yes. These small acts concealed by their habitual nature are dangerous for our culture and especially for our workplaces.

Microaggressions are the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental dignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group (Younger 109).

I pulled this definition from my book, The Art of Caring Leadership, but it originates from Chester M. Pierce, MD, a Harvard psychiatrist in the 1970s. Microaggressions are based on assumptions that historically biased stereotypes have ingrained into our culture. They are extremely hurtful, whether by word or action, to the person from the marginalized group. 

Instead of spreading the message of inclusivity and belonging, microaggressions are like glaring flash signals that indicate there is space between two people (or groups). This space can be culturally, socioeconomically, racially, educationally; the list goes on. 

The Data

In a survey conducted by Gallup on microaggressions in 2020, 32% of Black adults responded that “people acted as if they were better than [them]” very often. Some examples of microaggressions:

  • A non-Black person asking to touch a Black person’s hair. 
  • Someone volunteering an Asian colleague to bring fried rice to a company picnic. 
  • When a Black person is articulate, a White person says, “Oh my gosh, you articulate so well!”
  • telling a thin person that they should eat more food
  • using outdated and offensive terminology, such as, “That’s so gay”

Some of these examples are from my book, others I found here. Actions such as these demonstrate presumptions about people from minority groups. For workplaces to function efficiently and while being inclusive and belonging, there can be no space for microaggressions. What does this mean for our workplaces comprised of people who are unaware of the harm they might be inflicting?

A Resolution

First of all, how many believe that ignorance means innocence? That’s an idea I am familiar with because of my faith. It holds some truth—you are not culpable for your mistake if you didn’t know it was wrong. However, ignorance does not preclude your personal improvement. Just because you are unaware of the harm you may have caused, it does not negate the wrongness of the action itself. You can only claim ignorance for a slip-up once; then, you should know better and must learn from it. 

Secondly, it does not fall upon the shoulders of the person or group of people you are offending to educate you. I would advise you not to seek out lessons on microaggressions from your peers who identify as a minority in some way. If they freely offer information on this topic, by all means, listen to their experiences. It is a great way to learn, but do not put the responsibility of resolving this issue on their shoulders. 

Lastly, we must transform our workplaces into Psychologically Safe Spaces where microaggressions desist as people learn to avoid discriminatory behaviors. Simultaneously, we must create a comfortable and safe way for employees to report bad behavior. 

A Psychologically Safe Space 

You can learn more about this in Chapter 7 of my book, which I mentioned above. I will provide you with a summary of steps to take to achieve this. 

  1. Earn their trust: seek to get to know your people on a deeper emotional level. Always be honest and transparent. Let them know they can rely on your word. 
  2. Encourage speaking the truth: invite people to share their experiences and feelings. Provide focus groups, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and forums. Also, go a level deeper and create a seamless, safe, and anonymous system for reporting incidents. 
  3. Show openness to hearing the hard things: This step goes hand in hand with accountability. If the organization is going to make mistakes (disclaimer-it will) then they must own up to those mistakes. Instill accountability at every level of the organization. The highest leadership tiers especially must be held accountable, so the rest of the organization sees what kinds of behaviors will and will not be tolerated hands down, no grey areas here. 
  4. Acknowledge when people speak up: This step is crucial. If you encourage people to share, you must recognize their willingness and helpfulness to come forward. Always connect the dots and communicate back to the person what actions the organization is taking in response. 
  5. Provide educational resources: Encourage your whole organization to educate themselves on these issues. Make it mandatory. Once the proper behavior has been learned, and resources to learn are available, I encourage you to no longer tolerate any microaggressions in your workplace. You will have a system to report them and a system to hold people accountable; use these to eradicate microaggressions. 

While my book details many more steps to aid you in fostering a psychologically safe space, I will not get into each one here. I encourage my readers to go forward seeking to lead with your hearts and engaging in inclusive, compassionate, caring, and empathetic behaviors. I look forward to creating more caring workplaces worldwide with your help! Join our Community of Caring Leaders here

 

 

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