Showing up for our people
On days or weeks that commemorate significant events, leaders, as key representatives of organisations, are well positioned to make space for their teams to have differing opinions, and have conversations in a respectful way, building connections with their colleagues.
It’s an important piece to get right.
Working with so many organisations, we’re uniquely positioned to share our thoughts.
What we know, is that ultimately, staff want to hear from their leaders, to know their views and to know where they stand. After all, it’s the leader who guides their teams in these trickier conversations. Leadership is not just a noun. It’s a verb, of leading, in the present and into the future. Leading is shown in someone’s actions, their words, their ability to inspire, motivate and encourage others.
I knew a CEO who would often make an opening remark on team bonding days, ‘that this isn’t my stuff’, and then leave. It always landed awkwardly. Despite the CEO’s clumsiness, connecting with others, particularly your team, is a fundamental part of the gig. It’s not a performance, but genuine visible leadership that teams prioritise. And perception plays a big role.
As a leader, this is your chance to set the tone and lead for others, not just yourself. And your failure to do so will be equally visible.
Showing interest, and genuinely being a part of days such as these; days with meaning, days that connect to furthering positive change, are important.
Elevating this, to more than just a celebration, by revisiting purpose, and opportunities for growth and inviting thought on ‘where to from here’ as an organisation provides a space to get your team members on board and have meaningful conversations.
As we find ourselves in Harmony Week this week, let’s take Harmony Day as a great example.
This day was born from the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (commemorating the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa in 1960).
In 2000 the Federal Government in Australia declared 21 March, National Harmony Day,
and while doing so, decided to soften the tone and inject positive psychology towards the day itself. They shifted the conversation away from the concepts of racism and intolerance towards acceptance and a celebration of our harmonious living and multi-cultural society.
Whilst the opinions are contentious, it’s up to you how you’d like to celebrate this; with a harmonious tone or by promoting the continuing fight against discrimination and driving social change. Or maybe even a bit of both. This will depend on your own experience and opinions but also on your team, and your organisation. Either way, do your research, consider options, and reflect on the position you want to take. Invite people into the conversation, and go with what ultimately speaks to your community at work.
Framing of the day itself, and how you as an organisation choose to mark this occasion, makes a critical difference in how others understand it.
Momentum and Fatigue
In the current climate there is such a cross-section of opinions and thoughts, the foundational meaning of the day, or any meaningful conversation at all, can end up being the unfortunate casualty.
Within the last few weeks, many of these ‘days’ have left a flurry of opinions across social media. Recently, International Women’s Day, St Patricks Day and now Harmony Day, the wide-ranging dichotomy of views, begins to widen the scope of the conversation. As that occurs, the angry soapbox tone can have the effect of dampening the conversation rather than promoting it. Planned celebrations begin to become unhinged, and cynicism and fatigue set in by those championing events.
This is not for a moment to diminish the importance of the voices or variety of opinions presented on these days, as each is being expressed as a truth for individuals or groups of people. Rather it is to invite people into a respectful conversation. Not shut it down.
What do we need from our leaders?
Nothing performative, nothing silent, but genuine statements that candidly communicate care and a view on the topic, and that a dialogue is encouraged.
What does a great role model look like in this space?
Most would understand that we don’t always align on every remark made in the workplace with leaders. Some remarks sit perfectly, and others we can agree to disagree, but so long as we can all work on the shared goal of the company, everyone’s generally good about it.
Even still, there are certain qualities that a team can rally behind during certain special events:
When there’s falsity in commentary, be it greenwashing or performative leadership, credibility and trust is lost, but it’s also harmful to people and organisations making real inroads in this space.
Clarity on goals
If it’s clear and consistent, you can have confidence in the sentiment and sharing the narrative with others in the business.
At its core, finding a space where conversations are congruent to mission/values.
This doesn’t mean ‘no difference’, but, if you say the conversation will be respectful and inclusive, then it needs to be.
Don’t ice the cupcakes, but do show up for your people.
Ultimately, the banter has been about icing the cupcakes, seeing if people are OK every day of the year and hitting the biggest topics.
What we need to do is not hit the soapbox so hard we quell the conversations entirely.
We need to continue to show up for our people and do it meaningfully. When we do, we might surprise ourselves in what’s possible. When it’s rooted in genuine action and inspires the hearts and minds of our team, it’s harder, it’s more valuable and we are more connected.
It makes the journey, not just the destination, even more worthwhile.