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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Tips for Improving Interactions

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

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about unprecedented changes to nearly every aspect of our lives including the ways in which companies, both small and large, conduct their work. Out of necessity, many businesses made the shift from the traditional 9-5 “in-office” workdays to a less rigid “work from home” model. The remarkable benefits of increased flexibility, non-existent commutes, and the elimination of expensive childcare for many working parents has swayed organizations to continue with this arrangement in the post-pandemic world.

Despite the plethora of advantages, this new work style has the potential for the lines of communication between colleagues to become frayed as people complete their work independently and on their own schedules. The need for workplace mentors has not changed, however, and you’ll need to find creative solutions to bridge the distance between yourself and the people you advise.

BE FLEXIBLE

Remote work allows for people to be more intentional about how they plan their calendars and how and when they interact with people. Consider creating a document in the cloud for you and the people you work with to share thoughts throughout the week asynchronously, so when you come together in your virtual meetings, you have thoughtful talking points and ideas to build on. This ongoing effort allows for you and your mentee to closely collaborate in meaningful ways even without the face-to-face options.

BE CONSISTENT

While some aspects of your schedule may be more flexible, the need for regular, dependable check-ins with your mentee(s) should be non-negotiable. Weekly meetings can provide comfort for workers who may be struggling with balancing responsibilities remotely. The assurance that you have carved out time specifically for their questions and ideas promotes employee well-being that benefits them personally and professionally. If urgent questions arise throughout the week, or you can’t make a regularly scheduled meeting, communicate that, reschedule, and follow-up with answers to questions promptly.

BUILD INDIVIDUAL RELATIONSHIPS

Honest and open communication is key. Ask your mentee to identify any areas that they would like to grow, and work in tandem to create a realistic plan that can be put into action. Remember that since your mentee won’t physically see you in the office, you’ll want to find inventive ways to be visible, accessible, and approachable. Reaching out to people outside of regularly scheduled meetings for quick “check-ins” can be a great way to offer support in the online world.

ACKNOWLEDGE ACHIEVEMENTS

Recognize professional accomplishments that your mentee has been working hard to attain. Give people unprompted shout-outs in meetings and highlight the value that person brings to your organization. Be sure to celebrate both the small successes and the big victories equally. Consistent recognition makes people feel noticed and appreciated and promotes a strong sense of community and optimism for everybody.

The relationship you build with your mentee should have just as much value for you as it does for them. Consider this a mutual exercise in building trust, extending your professional networks, honing your communication skills, and sharing new, diverse perspectives and experiences with one another. With these tips, you’re sure to build lasting relationships with the people that you work with.

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
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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That old saying “no man is an island” still rings true today. We are all connected with others in myriad ways, and we all depend on a large network of people to do our work, enjoy life, and, frankly, to survive. The CEO of a company might receive most of the fame and recognition, but that person’s success is intrinsically linked to others—their mid-level managers, the company custodians, the IT support team, the customers who believed in the company and its offerings.

This interconnectedness extends to our personal lives as well. We rely on the farmer to harvest food, the construction crew to repair our roads, the teacher to educate our children. I often see this community and interconnectedness at play with my grandson. He and his parents rely on care from a network of people. It truly “takes a village” to raise a child.

It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of community.

A strong community offers support, resources, and guidance. It not only provides us with necessities, but uplifts us and motivates us to keep going.

Today, we might find a sense of community and belonging in a variety of places—through work, family, online forums, volunteering. However, while it’s possible to be more interconnected than ever before, people are now lonelier and more depressed than ever. In the U.S., loneliness has been steadily increasing since 2015 (especially among younger generations), and that trend has been noted across the globe, as well.

Why is that? Why is our highly networked world lonely?

From my observations and research, I believe this has to do with the quality of our connections, rather than the quantity. One of your Twitters posts might be liked by 5,000 people, but do you really know any of them? You might engage in a webinar with 200 other individuals, but are you really talking to each other and getting to know one another on a deeper level?

At this point, you may be wondering, “So what? Why does it matter if people are lonely?”

Aside from the mental and emotion toll loneliness can cause, it has been linked to many physical side effects such as an “increased risk of mental health issues, heart disease and even death.” The Campaign to End Loneliness reports that, “Research shows that the impact of poor social relationships on mortality is comparable to the impact of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and consuming alcohol, and exceeds the impact of physical activity and obesity. Lonely individuals are at higher risk of hypertension, poor sleep, and the onset of disability.

So, what do we do?

I challenge you to seek out meaningful, real-world connections. Get to know your neighbors, host a barbeque, volunteer in your community, join an in-person networking or hobby group. If you are already connected with a number of other people, I challenge you to strengthen those connections by making an effort to be in touch, sending the occasional greeting card, or arranging a lunch or coffee date. You can also go the extra mile by reaching out to those who you suspect to be socially isolated (elderly friends, those who have limited access to reliable transportation, new parents!) and offer your support.

Community is created through conscious connections, not just through liking someone’s social media post in passing. It’s made by asking others about themselves and reciprocating by opening up and being a little vulnerable. Let’s dare to strike up conversations and make connections! Let’s strive to consciously foster community.

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
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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