Strategic Leaders Academy expert Laura Colbert is a connecter, wife and mother of three, consultant, public speaker, personal advisor, author, outdoor enthusiast, and reader.

 

Forbes released an article on September 19, 2021, stating that empathy is the most important leadership skill. The greater the empathy, the greater the innovation, engagement, retention, inclusivity, and the ability to navigate the demands of work and life. Wow! That’s a jam-packed list of positive outcomes. Better yet, empathy reaps more empathy. You are in a leadership position, which comes with a huge responsibility in helping your employees to be their best selves. If you can’t empathize with them, how can you help them?

Empathy can come in many forms. Be present, acknowledge their feelings and thoughts without one-upping them, ask questions, give eye contact, don’t multi-task, be compassionate, and be both emotionally and cognitively open.

As a leader, I saw the outcome of my empathy and lack thereof. I  worked hard to create a safe place for my employees to feel heard and understood. I asked that the elephant be put on the table, that the conversation was solution-focused, and I listened to understand. The staff was appreciative that they could work in a building where they felt valued and cared for.

I didn’t always get it right, though. Once the pandemic hit, I wanted to continue the exact same pre-pandemic trajectory. I was quick to stop complaints in mid-sentence―especially when those complaints were done in large teams. I wanted the team meetings to be focused, positive, and efficient so that the already overwhelmed staff could get back to their demanding jobs. My misstep was that the staff wanted to feel heard, validated, and built up. I created more of an us vs. them mentality by cutting them off. Thank goodness, I had a strong set of team leaders who shed some light on the situation and I was able to pivot into a more understanding role.

Here’s the deal, leading with empathy is crucial. It’s not a weakness, it’s not catering to the millennials or the snowflakes, it is part of our evolving workplace. We keep talking about how the millennials have changed the ways of business. Well, guess what? Gen Z is now entering the workforce. What impact do you think they will have on the way we run our businesses and the way we lead?


Follow the R.E.T.E.N.T.I.O.N. steps to better empathize and hold on to your valuable employees:


·         RESPECT – Give people your full attention when they speak. Keep in mind that constructive criticism and feedback can be done in a respectful way.
·         EMPATHIZE – Lend an ear, help problem-solve―hopefully giving your employees the agency to create solutions on their own thereafter, and listen to understand.
·         TRUST – Use compassion, integrity, and consistency. It will boost employee buy-in.
·         ENGAGE – Boost engagement by purposefully hiring employees to work within their passions and strengths so that they’ll enjoy what they do.
·         NORMS (rules of engagement) – Set reasonable expectations, stick to them, and ask that everyone assist in holding each other accountable.
·         TIME – Have patience, don’t overwork your employees, offer professional development opportunities. The more your employees grow, the more your business will grow.
·         INNOVATE – Allow your team to be creative. This will not only boost workplace satisfaction, but it will move your organization forward and it will give your employees a sense of belonging.
·         OPENLY PRAISE – Acknowledge, validate, and give positive feedback for work well done.
·         NEEDS – Offer assistance and understanding when needed. Be sure to treat mental health the same way you treat physical health. Burn-out can have much greater implications for your business’s productivity than a broken leg.


Most importantly, make sure your cup is full. It’s a great way to lead by example and only then can you offer your best self to help others.


Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help! [email protected]

Unsolicited feedback can rattle around in the think tank and disrupt sleep, family time, and even invade the sacred workout brain space.

Feedback – The Great, the Mediocre, and the Ugly
If you’re like me, you find feedback around every corner, especially when embarking on a new role. Sometimes that feedback changes one’s life for the better and other times it has the power to ruin your day. Unsolicited feedback can rattle around in the think tank and disrupt sleep, family time, and even invade the sacred workout brain space. It has the ability to disrupt workplace productivity, innovation, creativity, and can ultimately upset the culture. Have you ever worked at a place where the unsolicited feedback was more about your fellow employees’ insecurities than your own performance? It makes me shake my head just thinking about it.

Here’s what I’ve learned from keeping an open-door policy and graciously accepting all the feedback that was given to me. Some of it is pure rubbish. Ever heard of mansplaining? It’s patronizing and condescending. That’s what unsolicited feedback can be—it’s a power play and is more about the giver than the receiver. When I returned from Iraq in 2004 I was telling a 22-year-old man about some of my war stories and he had the gall to tell me I was wrong and that his veteran buddies had a much different take on the war. I was appalled that he said I was wrong about my own experience. My young adult self didn’t know how to react to his “feedback.”

I have also been in incredibly awkward situations when a past supervisor gave me feedback on how to respond to an employee issue. This feedback was in direct conflict with my core value of open communication and respect. It felt like a violation of my ideals and put me in a sticky situation of disobeying orders or disobeying myself.
Don’t get me wrong, feedback can be a gift. It can help us grow, it can enhance our strengths, and it can take us from good to great. I get feedback about these articles before I post them and I’m incredibly grateful for that feedback. The key to good feedback is accountability. Feedback from credible sources and trusted advisors helps us to avoid getting high on our own fumes. Unsolicited feedback is fire-and-forget, unaccountable, and is almost always about the sender.

Keep this in mind:

*Before internalizing feedback, make sure the feedback is coming from a reputable source and that the source has your best interest in mind. Listen to solicited feedback.

*The feedback should be efficacious and not detract from your positive trajectory.

*Be purposeful about surrounding yourself with people who will build you up to the best version of yourself and help you from breathing your own exhaust.

*Always remember, no matter how smart, powerful, interesting, far-up-the-ladder, or renowned the person giving the feedback is, it’s an opinion. You have the CHOICE to take it or let it go.

*It’s ok to let the unsolicited feedback take a one-way trip in one ear and out the other—especially if it’s hurtful or negative.

Good luck and continue your positive self-talk. After all, you know yourself best.

Additional Offerings:

Are you looking for a Keynote Speaker at your next event? I use my past experiences and knowledge to show you how to be the best version of yourself, surround yourself with the right people, and build highly productive teams.

Book:
Sirens: How to Pee Standing Up – An alarming memoir of combat and coming back him. This book depicts the time of war and its aftermath. It seamlessly bridges the civilian and military divide and offers clarity to moral injury and post-traumatic stress.

Culture is a vital facet in a successful business and a successful community

 
IS YOUR CULTURE ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE?


Back in 2003, I was stationed in Baghdad, Iraq as a military police officer. We were three months into the war and my squad was working in an Iraqi Police station on the northeast side of Baghdad. Our police station was decrepit with broken panes of glass in the windowsills, cigarette butts piled in the corner on the blackened floor, and no flushing toilets. On this particular day, I was sitting in the front of the station taking complaints from Iraqi citizens. During one of the quieter moments the female interpreter, Nada, said, “The reason why the Iraqis are not behaving is that they don’t know how to respond to freedom. Under Saddam’s dictatorship, they would lose their life or limb for infractions. Now they can loot, drive down the wrong side of the street, slight their neighbor, and barely anything happens.”  I had an epic epiphany at that moment. We, as Americans, couldn’t possibly comprehend the Iraqi’s emotions, thoughts, and the fallout that occurred after liberating Iraq. The saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” not only existed in Iraq but the native culture killed our foreign policy—both in Iraq and Afghanistan. One could say that the same thing happened in Vietnam. Our inability to empathize and develop policies that directly correlate with the centuries-old culture left us unable to make the impact we hoped for. Our democratic values and ethos aren’t a match for the complexities of the middle east.

As a new leader, do you fully understand the culture in your workplace? What about a seasoned leader, is your workplace culture the same as you envision it to be?

This week, new research revealed that Instagram is toxic for teen girls and their mental health. Additionally, Facebook tried to make its platform a healthier place but it got angrier instead. Both are negatively impacting the social media culture. What are they going to do about it? There could be societal and workplace nuances pulling your operating culture away from your envisioned culture. When was the last time you checked your organization’s cultural pulse?

Misunderstanding culture can ruin progress. Inability to empathize with your employees and understand their intricacies can diminish trust.
Culture is a fragile entity within a working environment. A change in procedures, employees, leadership, or the environment around us can cause the culture to fluctuate. As a principal, I saw how the pandemic drastically affected our school’s culture. It was disheartening and tragic to witness our community complain about one another. Tensions caused discontent. Misinformation and assumptions divided the workforce. To combat the change, I utilized several tactics to retain our culture, to provide support, and to create lasting memories even though we weren’t face-to-face. The results created a community of understanding and buy-in, which enabled the staff to work together and focus on their priority―student learning.

Is your culture really as good as you think it is? Are you asking the right questions and looking at the correct indicators to make sure your envisioned culture and your operating culture are consistent? What suggests they are out of whack.

Action steps:

Keep an eye on your culture. Check in often with all of your employee levels and be fully present. Look past the “please-the-boss” façade and see what your employees see. Don’t ever settle when hiring.  You’ll gain a reputation for hiring the best and your employees will appreciate the fact that they work with the best and they are the best. Make sure you’re not blind to a slowly declining culture. Sometimes the change is so subtle we don’t notice it happening. An outside perspective (consultant) can be a vital asset for this action step. Be a part of the positive change. Lead by example―treat everyone with respect and dignity. Do not gossip and vent at work. Purposefully plan events to bring your employees together to create a sense of belonging and use that opportunity to grow as a team. A greater sense of belonging equates to greater productivity.
Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help![email protected]