What do we mean by “leadership”
In almost every aspect of society, we usually get credit for making sacrifices in order to help others but when it comes to business it’s the exact opposite and we are ready step on others in order to rise to the top and we do get rewared for that, for gaining the victory in that way.
Leadership, instead, is about rising – but rising together, by lifting others with us so that we can all get to the top.
How can we actually be good leaders? How can we properly guide, motivate and inspire our coworkers?
One concept that I often hear is: “people first” and my personal way of interpreting and approaching this concept usually stands on two pillars : empathy and diversity & inclusion.
Say you have two hypothetical workplaces: The first one is a workplace with a tense atmosphere and a target-driven mindset. The people you work with are stressed out all the time, they don’t feel valued and are scared of being easily replaceble.
The second one is a workplace where the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, employees know they can rely on one another and they feel appreciated, both personally and professionally.
Where would you feel more comfortable, productive, and motivated? Where would you feel a sense of belonging?
Like in any kind of relationship, the best way to practice empathy is by establishing a good and easy communication. You want to make sure that your coworkers know that they can come to you, as a leader, whenever they need help or just someone to talk to. I personally prefer informal contexts since a more relaxed atmosphere helps a lot in feeling comfortable when sharing emotions and thoughts and I like to regularly meet them individually either for lunch or even just a coffee and have a chat – we don’t discuss business and we don’t talk about work, instead, I ask them about their lives, their families, their pets, their plans for the holiday… and I listen to what they say aand reflect upon that – especially ifit’s something negative or worrying in any way.
This little, is enough and it actually goes a long way. When colleagues feel my support towards them, they’re happy and that support is always translated into a sense of trust and belonging and they feel empowered to help the business achieve its goals, not because this is what they’re paid for, because they are part of it and they want to be part of its success.
At the end we all need to feel that we matter, that we make a difference – it give us a sense of purpose.
In conclusion: build relationships through communication. Ask, listen and reflect.
Diversity and inclusion
We are all convinced that we are good, ethical people and with sound moral values.. until we realize that we frequently act on the basis of unconscious biases that are rooted deep within us. If we wish to hold a position of responsibility we might need to destroy those imaginary walls that divide us all.
It is not true that we are all the same, we are all different in our own way: we are men, women, young, old, tall, short.. but some differences are bigger that others.
Have you ever been the only foreigner in the room? The only person with a disability? Have you ever been the only woman? Or the only young person in the room?
How did that make you feel? Did you feel included? Did you feel represented?
By definition: “Cultural diversity is when differences in ethnicity, language, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation are represented within a community” (Amadeo, 2013). But let’s see why diversity and representation matter so much and let’s do so by looking at the matter from two different perspectives:
1 – The first point of view is the one of a manager who needs to hire new employees:
What do you get by building a powerful diverse team?
Well, I am Italian, right? So think about an Italian company, hiring only italian men in their 40s.
Now think of another company, hiring people not based on their gender or age or nationality, but based only on their skills, professional experience and willingness to learn.
In which of the two situations can we build a team with different ways of thinking? A team who can analyze a matter from a variety of perspectives? In which of the two teams do we break down barriers and grow together, create exchange, contamination and debate?
There are so many studies showing that poor leadership in this sense, results in a negative impact on the culture within an organisation in a number of ways, not investing in a diverse team creates a culture of mediocrity, it results in a higher staff turnover, low morale and lack of vision.
2 – Let’s change perspective now, we’re no longer the managers wanting to get the most out of our team, we are now the new employee joining the team.
We talked about this matter of representation before, even during last years’ innovate elt conference when discussing how to write inclusive teaching material: immagine you are a student in your 60s, or you are a non binary person or you are on a wheelchair.
You open your English book and you simply don’t exist. There isn’t a single representation of you, anywhere. You get the feeling that there’s something wrong with you, that you are different and not welcomed, you don’t matter at all and at the end you’re surely not encouraged to study on that book full of blond white boys.
This methaphore of a person opening book relates to the situation in which someone joins a new team for the first time: remember for a second how you felt when you were the only person similar to you in that room and not feeling included nor represented but let’s add details to this situation: what if you had days off for celebrating religious events that are different from those celebrated by the rest of the team? Or what if you could choose to eat a traditional dish from your country from the menu in the canteen? Or what if the whole team would be courious to taste it and celebrate those differences rather than just tolerate them? What if those small factors make you feel like you matter, like you are part of something bigger, like your ideas and the ones of others have the same exact value. Would you feel more comfortable now? Would you be ready to sprout? Would you feel supported and ready to give your best?
This is exactly the feeling that I want my coworkes to get by applying this inclusive approach. I really want them to feel home even though they may be thousands of miles away from their actual home.
Leaders: born or trained?
I don’t know your opinion on this but for me there are certain aspects that we can definitely learn, train or improve and other aspects that just seem part of the nature of a person.
But then I try to look at the matter from a different point of view: if I consider the most common qualities of a leader (integrity, selflessness, sensitivity, patience, enthusiasm, honesty..) I realize that those are traits that maybe we are not used to seeing as ours in the workplace but that are part of us in completely different contexts; In the workplace you may not always be patient or enthusiastic but what about when you are at home? With your children, sisters and brothers, parents or best friends?
We easily apply those qualities in our relationships with them because we see them as people, we love them and we care so much about them that we just could’t do otherwise.
This is what I’ve learned so far: treat everyone as they are your brothers and sisters.
For me it wasn’t easy at the beginning, because the co-founder of Busy Bee is actually my sister.
This means that on the one hand it was difficult to set boundaries, on the other hand, it was a great way to learn about true, selfless, loyal leadership.
She wasn’t just a random person working with me: I am your sister. You need support? I’ll always got your back.
That’s exactly how I started to behave towards other collaborators too, because we are all in this together, we are all working toward the same goal and we want to do so in a healthy and fun way.
By doing so, you’ll start to realize that people will go the extra mile and do much more than requested if feeling appreciated and valued and you will start gathering around you honest, loyal, respectful and ethical people you can definitely trust.