Building a culture that celebrates inclusivity and democracy starts with the development of managers and leaders who listen intently and make people feel like they matter, says executive coach Helena Clayton.
Showing people at whatever level in an organisation that they matter is the first step in building a culture that celebrates traits like kindness, inclusivity and democracy.
As a coach, I work up close and personal with people. Part of my role is to give those people my complete attention. To be very interested in what they say, and also in what’s behind and in between their words. To ask them to say more. To reflect back what I’m hearing. Support and affirm them in the qualities I see in them. Gently challenge them and care enough to help them see what they might be missing.
You matter in this organisation and you matter to the work. You matter to me. You matter in the world
At a more macro level, I am working with a global organisation where the exit interviews repeatedly give truth to the adage that ‘people join organisations but leave managers.' The themes across these conversations is that ‘no one is taking much of an interest in me and what I’m about.' And ‘no-one cares much about my hopes and aspirations, what brings me alive, and what brings out the best in me.'
The phrase that’s at the heart of these two examples is: ‘you matter.' You matter in this organisation and you matter to the work. You matter to me. You matter in the world. You matter to the people around you. Your thoughts, feelings and opinions matter. As a coach, this feeling has to be there. It’s central to the success of coaching . And in organisations too, feeling we matter means:
- we’re likely to be a braver, more confident, more generous version of ourself
- we will pass that on and help colleagues feel the same through kind and inclusive behaviours
- it helps us know our work matters too and we’re likely to take more pride in it
So how do we create a culture where people can say with confidence ‘I matter’? Where managers and leaders convey convincingly to their people: ‘you matter’. We do that through putting the human front and centre of our leadership . We that do that because at the heart of the democratic and inclusive leadership that PTHR advocates for is the vital importance of conveying: ‘you matter’ to the people around you. There are some immediate things we can do.
Listening and giving our attention
Findings from an ongoing research project I am conducting show that people consider listening to be a deeply loving act and at the heart of human leadership. Nothing says ‘you matter’ more than this. Several things are key here:
- asking people their opinion and encouraging a culture where people speak up and speak out about what they think and feel
- when people have the courage to speak, we put everything (everything) aside and give them our full attention
- tracking the amount of time we’re on transmit and how much we are asking, inquiring and framing our questions out of genuine curiosity
- creating structures, spaces and opportunities (like Listening Circles) to gather and talk and cross pollinate and network and build communities and connections
Most organisations could benefit greatly from ‘bringing the outside in’
When someone asked him how they could make time for meditation when they were so busy, the Dalai Lama was reported to have said: ‘the busier I am, the more I meditate.’ For organisational life, it seems like we should be saying: ‘the busier we are, the more we have to set aside time to listen to people.'
Developing a wider perspective
But there are two more things we can do:
Creating space in our working worlds for space for our spiritual, physical and emotional lives – the ‘me I have forgotten I am’. We don’t leave that part of us at the door of our workplace and we need to stop pretending we can. It’s not just the cognitive parts of ourselves that matter. Do you create, in the way you lead, any space at all for this part of people to be recognised? It inevitably enriches our working world to know that ‘all parts of me matter’.
- Encouraging everyone to see the total context and the biggest picture that we’re part of. We need to know more about what’s going in other parts of the organisation and other parts of the world. We need to feel our human connections with others and with distant strangers. Most organisations could benefit greatly from ‘bringing the outside in’, whether internally through, say, action learning sets, or externally with regular contact with people from other sectors or parts of the world. That way we learn about what matters to others. We learn ‘we all matter’.
Say it aloud!
Try saying ‘I matter’ out loud to yourself right now. Try it a few times. Loudly. Now try it quietly. What about when you try ‘I matter in my organisation’. Or ‘I matter to my manager.' Try out a variety of versions. How does it feel? What comes up for you? When/where does it feel true? And where does it feel untrue? What’s that telling you?
What about if I asked your team ‘does your manager make you feel you matter’? What do you imagine they might say? And what might you start to do to help more people say that with confidence?
Through the pandemic, people have woken up to what matters to them. There is growing sense that we want different things from our work. More meaning and purpose. More space to be heard. More attention paid to who we are as people. Our role in organisations is to work out ways to make people know that they matter to us.
Interested in this topic? Read Four cruical attitudes of compassionate leaders.
A consultant of 25 years experience, Helena designs and runs innovative leadership development for public and private sector organisations. Clients range from Big 4 global consulting practices and UK car manufacturers through to UK Housing Associations. Her programmes – always tightly tailored to specific needs - help leaders develop the deep...