by Anna O’Dea
Genuine connection comes down to how vulnerable we are willing to be with others.
It is the act of sharing stories, vulnerabilities, and even fears that help bring us together.
When you reveal something about yourself that is not widely known to others, you’re showing that person or audience who you really are. You’re demonstrating that you trust them. This, supported by consistent behaviour that demonstrates integrity, builds trust.
So many impressive leaders in my network have faced adversity in different forms and balanced this with growing a business and more often than not, significant personal challenges going on behind the scenes. Sickness, loss of a loved one, trauma and financial and emotional setbacks. These experiences, which have shaped who they are as individuals, have gone on to influence the type of leaders they are and the team they attract.
I believe any business can be transformed by listening and leading by example. Here are the lessons I’ve learnt since spending $50,000 to find out what is important to my community and team.
1. Never make assumptions about people’s lives.
I’ve learned from tech entrepreneurs that one of the most common mistakes is investing in a solution without asking customers what they want. When we started the Leading Ladies series for example, instead of dictating the content we thought would be relevant, we asked interviewees to share their own stories that they’ve not had a chance to share before.
We told them they had access to a blank canvas and nothing was off limits. The floodgates opened. We discovered issues such as bullying in the workplace, racism, homophobia, sexism, parental leave and negotiating a pay rise were all affecting many workplaces and these brave individuals wanted a platform to address it.
I realised that perhaps many workplaces still create initiatives without actually asking their team what’s important to them. It’s tricky for many employees to verbalise what they need without fear of consequence.
I think the bravest question any leader can ask themselves is, ‘Have you asked your team what they need, or are you making assumptions based on your own point of view in a position of privilege?’ Does your team feel that they can tell you what they need, or are there opportunities to create an anonymous feedback loop so you can better learn how to support them?
2. You can’t be what you can’t see
After months of research, writing, profiling senior women in leadership positions, hours transcribing interviews, commissioning countless photo shoots and developing content, some interesting things started to happen.
I started to receive emails from people saying our stories had helped to shine a light on an issue that was pertinent to them. I received phone calls from people in tears saying they’d faced similar adversity and for the first time they didn’t feel alone. People told me they felt heard and that the series showed them what was possible.
I realised countless men and women from junior professionals to executives were for once seeing themselves in these stories and that was changing people’s perceptions of themselves.
It made me realise that perhaps we could all do a better job of showing our team that it’s ok to be human at work. That it is possible to be yourself, open, honest, transparent, and still be liked, respected and rewarded.
Workplaces with greater diversity deliver higher returns. Could you do a better job of more accurately reflecting the diverse range of opinions and influences that no doubt exist in your business? Are decisions reflective of what is important to the wider team or just a select few?
3. When uncomfortable, think of what others will learn from you
Truth be told, when I told people I was going to invest so heavily in content, not everyone loved the idea. I was told I was nuts. It wouldn’t generate ROI. Interestingly, and perhaps more reflective of the industry, I was also told to be careful about what I had to say.
When you do something new, you bend, you grow, and sometimes, you fall over. You might even fail. But if you don’t do that new, scary thing, you’ll be exactly what other people expect of you and no further away from those doing the same thing.
If you really want to be competitive and attract and keep the best talent, ask yourself this, ‘Are we communicating our initiatives internally and externally to let people know there are great workplaces like ours out there?’
And if we aren’t, is there a reason for that?