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Creating Successful Leaders

In recent years, workplace vulnerability has become something of a trend. Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, Tommy Spaulding’s heart-led leadership concept, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence and other similar publications have opened the door for more vulnerability at all levels of the workplace, including leadership.

On the surface, that’s great! I fully support heart-led leadership and maintaining an open, honest relationship with team members. Problems can arise, however, when displays of emotion are not authentic.

A couple weeks ago, a CEO was given flak on social media for posting a picture of himself in tears, after he fired two of his people. Questions were immediately raised about his authenticity. The guy does run a social media company, so did he know this image would likely generate a buzz? And, most importantly, why was he turning the spotlight on himself, instead of centering his message on the two employees he let go? And why go public with his tears, instead of only sharing his sadness with his team?

These are all valid questions, and they led many people to distrust the CEO’s intentions. Some began labeling this “performative empathy.”

To me, performative empathy means putting on a show, rather than conveying true emotions. You might fake or exaggerate your sadness, anger, or frustration in order to win vulnerability points from your people. This isn’t true empathy, but a performance.

True empathy comes from a place of genuine concern. As a leader, you should authentically care about each person on your team. That care will naturally bubble up from time to time…but do you need to post about it on social media? That’s really not the point. The point is to be a genuine, caring human being with your team. The point is to see them as people—with very real struggles, emotions, and needs—and care about their wellbeing.

To avoid performative empathy, ask yourself:

  • How am I really feeling?
  • Is it appropriate to share these feelings?
  • Does my team need commiseration right now? Motivation? Simple understanding? (Make sure you’re acting in a way that’s appropriate for the situation.)
  • Has enough trust been established so that it feels natural to share my genuine emotions?
  • Does anyone outside of the team need to know how I’m feeling?

Authentic, heart-led leadership is a powerful thing. As long as you, as a leader, are coming from a place of genuine concern, you won’t have to worry about performative empathy. You’ll be practicing actual empathy.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE

Everyone has been abuzz about “quiet quitting” lately. This workplace trend essentially involves doing the bare minimum to meet one’s job requirements. No extra projects. No overtime or answering emails after hours. If it’s not in the job description, it won’t be done.

I have mixed feelings about the trend.

On the one hand, workers should be able to have a healthy work/life balance. With access to emails, chat groups, and texting, it’s easy for a boss to check in after hours and say, “Can you do just one more thing…” If the workplace is in crisis mode, an after-hours check-in could make sense, but aside from that, it is unwarranted and unhealthy. We all need some separation from our work lives and our homes lives (and that barrier has become quite thin lately, with so many people working from home).

However, I can also see quiet quitting going a step too far and turning into apathy. If you’re only willing to do the minimum, you won’t be willing to grow or challenge yourself. You won’t think outside the box, take initiative, challenge yourself, or get creative. In short, you’ll stagnate.

How can leaders push back against quiet quitting?

Leaders are not helpless when it comes to quiet quitting. In fact, they have much more power than they might realize. A person who feels motivated and inspired is not going to want to quit quietly. Someone who feels supported in the workplace, has strong connections with their leader and co-workers, and is engaged in their work is not going to quietly drift into “bare minimum” territory.

Let’s talk about ways leaders can build a team of enthusiastic doers, rather than quiet quitters.

1. Understand the reasons for quiet quitting

Essentially, quiet quitting stems from discontentment. Is your team (or a specific team member) feeling overworked or underappreciated? Are their voices and perspectives stifled in some way? Are they doing work that doesn’t suit their abilities and interests?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, take note! The environment is ripe for quiet quitting.

2. Get to know individuals

Running a team is not just about doling out assignments and making sure work is completed. That is the bare minimum. Effective leaders get to know every individual on their team—their interests, their capabilities, which types of projects energize and excite them, any barriers (including personal struggles) that might be holding them back, etc.

Getting to know your team members takes time and a concerted effort. I suggest meeting regularly with each person one-on-one, asking good questions (e.g. What are your most interesting projects right now? Least interesting? What do you wish you could be doing more of?), and listening closely to their answers. Consider keeping a file on each person to track anything useful that you learn.

3. Work toward a shared vision

When people feel as though they are part of a shared vision, they feel included and energized. Their path is clear (they know the big end goal), and they understand how their work contributes to the vision. This may be an overarching company vision, or it may be a vision you establish as a team. Either way, keep your vision top-of-mind, discuss it often, and make sure everyone understands how they are contributing and pushing the needle. This is true team work.

Effective leaders have no need to fear the quiet quitting trend. If you take the time to truly get to know your team members, make sure they are doing work they love and care about, and work toward a shared vision, you’ll likely have an energized team that is excited about their work and want to contribute. Even if that means stretching themselves past the minimum.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE

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The business world can be cutthroat at times. For years, I worked with sales teams at 3M, leading people whose pay and reputation relied on their sales performance. With competitions and high expectations driving them, the sales professionals felt quite a bit of pressure to outshine others.

Fortunately, I worked with congenial groups of people who did not throw others under the bus, but usually functioned as a cohesive unit. Other teams, I know, are not so fortunate. Some will do whatever it takes to gain a promotion, win a competition, or make themselves look better than their colleagues. And this isn’t just limited to sales teams—this level of competitiveness can be found in all industries, at all levels of the company. Whenever there is something to be gained by trampling others, people will, unfortunately, do it.

This type of ruthless competitiveness can create an atmosphere of tension and distrust. People are constantly watching their backs, and are hesitant to open up to co-workers or leaders. Additionally, when competitiveness reigns, there is little room for non-performance-based initiatives (improving interpersonal communication, trying out new ideas, beta-testing a new product). Competitiveness means stomping on the accelerator and not stopping to consider alternative paths or potential innovations.

Instead of competing with co-workers, I’m a proponent of collaboration and encouragement. When you remove the competitive component, you start to function as a cohesive team (and, as we all know, many heads are better than one). There is a reason workplaces are comprised of many different people with myriad responsibilities and perspectives—we’re meant to work together, brainstorm, collaborate, and make improvements.

Additionally, when workplaces move from an atmosphere of competitiveness to one of affirmation and support, people just might enjoy going to work—imagine that! An article by Harvard Business Review says that, “Employees who report having friends at work have higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction than those who don’t.”

Instead of fostering a highly competitive environment, it’s time companies shift their focus to interpersonal relationships and dynamics. As a leader, you can help build community in your workplace team in many different ways. Try throwing brief “get to know you” activities into your team meetings (your favorite food, dream vacation, any upcoming trips or events). Or enroll your people in a coaching program, such as Insights® Discovery, which is team-oriented and known to create lasting changes. Or, occasionally plan an activity, outing, or retreat for the team. You could present a few ideas and let people vote on their favorite one (so they have a voice in the planning process and are invested in the idea).

No matter how you decide to build community and amiability among team members, it’s important that it happens. While some amount of competitiveness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it should not come at the expense of team unity and satisfaction. As a leader, you have the power to influence team cohesiveness, facilitate friendships, and encourage collaboration instead of competition.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE

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