Not too long ago, I read a new book on gender equality in the workplace. I’ve read many of these types of books but this one was from a different perspective. Rania Anderson’s company, The Way WoMen Work, is specifically geared toward helping male business leaders obtain the skills and perspectives needed to intentionally advance women.
Rania realized long ago that many men want to support women at work but don’t know the best way to do so.
In your book, you mention that, while at companies working with women, men were often stopping you to ask for help. Many men want to know how to work more effectively with women. Given the many years of focus on diversity, did this surprise you?
It did. After I was approached a few times, I recognized that many men are ready to transform their workplaces and the way they work and lead with women.
Some are motivated by talent shortages. Others are under pressure to innovate and understand the changing needs of consumers, many of whom are women. They recognize that they cannot win by continuing to rely on half the talent pool.
Yet others want to have flexibility in their work environment and recognize that the changes that women want in the workplace would also benefit them.
The motivations of the men that spoke to me were varied, but what they were asking for was the same – to no longer be left out of the conversation and to be invited to be part of the solution.
“Just as companies measure return on equity, there’s also a demonstrated return on equality.” -Rania Anderson
When a copy of Leading with Dignity landed on my desk, I was intrigued for a couple reasons. First, the author, Donna Hicks PhD, did not fit the profile of a typical business management book author. Her background is in international conflict resolution—she has, for 25 years—worked in some of the most conflict-ridden areas of the world, including Northern Ireland, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Syria, and the Middle East. What is a conflict resolution specialist doing writing a book about business leadership? I wondered and was excited to learn more. I love learning from non-traditional approaches and a different perspective.
Second, the word “dignity” intrigued me. Dignity can be perceived as a soft, abstract idea. It’s not a standard buzzword in conversations about workplace and company culture. Yet, Hicks says that an understanding of dignity and how to honor it is an essential role to good leadership. In the book, she highlights three components of leading with dignity: what one must know in order to honor dignity and avoid violating it; what one must do to lead with dignity; and how one can create a culture of dignity in any organization, whether corporate, religious, governmental, healthcare, or beyond.
She uses hundreds of interviews, research in psychology, and real-life case studies to illustrate how leaders and managers can better understand dignity and transform their workplaces.
We spoke about her research.
“The most toxic workplaces in which I have consulted are those with unaddressed and unacknowledged dignity violations and the gossip network is alive and functioning well.” -Donna Hicks
What’s your definition of dignity? What does it look like to treat someone with dignity?
My definition of dignity is simple; it is our inherent value and worth. We are all born with it. At the same time, we are born vulnerable to having it injured, just like a physical injury. From my research, I have developed the Ten Elements of Dignity, ten ways to honor it in ourselves and others: Acceptance of Identity–people want to be treated well no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation; recognition—for their hard work and a job well done; safety—make people feel safe both physically and psychologically so they feel free from humiliation; acknowledgment—for the suffering they have endured if treated badly; fairness—to be treated in an even-handed way; inclusion—make people feel a sense of belonging; understanding—don’t rush to judgment; give people a chance to share their perspective; independence—avoid micro-managing; benefit of the doubt—treat people as if they were trustworthy; and accountability—apologize when you have caused someone harm.
“The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” -John Naisbitt
What do most people get wrong when thinking about it?
The most common misconception about dignity is that it is the same as respect. Dignity and respect are very different. Dignity is something we are born with—our inherent value and worth. We don’t have to do anything to have dignity. Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity, no matter what they do. Respect, on the other hand, has to be earned. If I say I respect someone, she or he has done something special to deserve my admiration. I say to myself, “I want to be like that person. She is a role model for me.”
“The price of greatness is responsibility.” -Winston Churchill
Jackie Stavros is a professor at Lawrence Technological University; Appreciative Inquiry strategic advisor at Flourishing Leadership Institute; and an associate at Taos Institute. Cheri Torres is a Senior Consultant with NextMove and Partner at Innovation Partners International.
I recently spoke with Jackie and Cheri about their work.
“We live in worlds our conversations create.” -David Cooperrider
Torres: Actually, conversation is powerful, period, whether it’s a good one or a bad one. A bad conversation can turn a good day sour, influencing interactions for hours to come. A good conversation can brighten your day and propel you into high performance and a sense of elation. When you think about it, everything arises from conversation. We’re either carrying on an internal dialogue or engaged with others, each conversation influencing what’s possible in the next moment. Conversations influence our health, wellness, happiness, relationships, performance, and what’s possible.
“Sometimes the greatest adventure is simply a conversation.” -Amadeus Wolf
With their importance, why do conversations not seem to get enough attention in business?
Torres: Conversations are such an integral part of functioning in community that we take them for granted. Until recently, there was nothing drawing our attention to their importance. Research in the field of neurophysiology, however, is showing that conversations are integral to our capacity to access the executive center of our brain, the pre-fontal cortex, where higher order thinking, creativity, trust, good decision making, and the ability to connect are possible. Conversations that trigger fear or uncertainly stimulate the release of cortisol, epinephrine, and testosterone, shutting down access to the pre-frontal cortex and stimulating fight, flight, freeze, or appease. A good conversation has the power to shift the brain from threat to safety, simulating a whole different set of hormones—oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones help us reconnect, open up to what others have to say, and rekindle trust. Further research in positive psychology corresponds, showing that positivity in the workplace builds resiliency, high performance, innovation, and collaboration. Organizations that have taken this research to heart and have shifted leadership and management practices are discovering the amazing power of a great conversation – a conversation worth having.
Contrast a destructive versus an affirmative conversation. What are the effects of a destructive conversation? How long do they last?
Torres: In our book, in Chapter 2: What Kind of Conversations Are You Having, we classify four different kinds of conversations. All interactions either add-value or they devalue people and situations, and all conversations are either inquiry-based or statement-based. If your questions devalue a person or situation, we refer to those kinds of conversations as “critical conversations.” If you are telling and devaluing others, we call those “destructive.” Critical and destructive conversations typically trigger a threat response in others, and we just spoke about how that impacts us. The impact of such conversations can last a long time, long after the cortisol has left the system. The reason why? Our memory stores our experience; this person is recognized as unsafe. This of course inhibits working well together.
On the other hand, if you are telling and adding value, we refer to those interactions as “affirmative conversations.” Acknowledging strengths, complementing a job well done, advocating for someone or something are examples of affirmative conversations. If you are asking questions that add value or generate value, we call those conversations worth having. Affirmative conversations will shift the brain from distrust to trust; conversations worth having will broaden and deepen that shift allowing people to bring their full value to relationships in the workplace, at home, and/or in communities.
“Your conversations help create your world. Speak of delight, not dissatisfaction. Speak of hope, not despair. Let your words bind up wounds, not cause them.” -Tao Te Ching
Many people who write me express frustration about dealing with a different generation. Often the emails I receive are full of sweeping generalizations and accusations. Some are less frustrated, but sincerely baffled, wondering how to bridge the divide.
I’ve defined GENgagement as the state of achieving harmony, mutual involvement and cooperation, flow, and ongoing absorption in work with people of different generations.
GENgagement means getting all of the generations to understand each other, their influences, and their worldviews so they can work collaboratively, loyally, and productively. It is integral to the mission of transforming workplaces into engaged and productive environments for solving problems and being great places to work.
Benefits to organizations when workers are harmoniously engaged include desired talent retention, development of new skills, competitive intelligence, innovative ideas, and smooth transfer of external relationships – and increased profitability. According to an Aon Hewitt study, a 5% increase in engagement can generate an increase of 3% in revenue growth the following year.
Research: 5 percent increase in engagement can generate a 3 percent increase in revenue.
We generally don’t think of leadership as a habit, but it’s time that we do. How we get things done at work, and how we manage people, is the result of habits – and those habits can be purposefully changed.
Martin Lanik is an organizational psychologist and the CEO of Pinsight®, a global leadership software-as-service company known for its disruptive HR technology. His new book, THE LEADER HABIT: Master the Skills You Need to Lead in Just Minutes a Day, shares the science behind how people develop habits and shows you how to develop key leadership skills through simple, daily exercises.
“Any leadership skill starts as a weakness.” -Martin Lanik
There are two main reasons why most leadership development programs fail. First, they rely mainly on classroom training and workshops that focus on acquisition of knowledge. Not only do we forget 85% of what we learn within one week, but knowledge also doesn’t equal skill. Knowledge doesn’t make us better at actually doing things. One of the examples I use in THE LEADER HABIT comes from music education: You can take classes on proper piano-playing techniques and watch YouTube videos, but that won’t make you a concert pianist. You must actually touch the keyboard and practice every day. But even more importantly, traditional leadership development fails to take into account the overwhelming influence that habits have on our daily behavior. It assumes that we rationally decide how we behave at work and in life. But research suggests that almost half of our everyday behavior is actually unconscious and automatic. No amount of classroom instruction alone can build effective leadership habits.
Tell us more about the latest science on learning and the development of the Leader Habit Formula.
Leadership, at its core, is a set of habits. How we interact with coworkers, customers, how we answer the phone, make decisions, plan and delegate work, or empower our employees are all to some degree influenced by habits. Positive habits make us better leaders, while negative habits hinder our performance. In the research we did for THE LEADER HABIT and for our online leadership training platform, we identified the 22 core leadership skills and the underlying micro-behaviors that effective leaders possess. By associating each micro-behavior with a natural cue and then deliberately practicing this pairing every day for 66 days, anyone can turn these effective leadership behaviors into habits. Once the new habits take root, people perform these effective leadership behaviors automatically, without having to rely on reminders, or even thinking about them. They just happen as seamlessly as making your bed in the morning.
“Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” -Vince Lombardi
What are some ways to incorporate this science into today’s training programs?
Training professionals should think about what happens after the class or workshop. What will happen with the concepts? How can you help learners turn these concepts into habits, so that they stick? The Leader Habit Formula tells us to distill the main concepts into specific actions or thoughts, associate them with a cue, and then ask learners to practice the pairing once per day for 66 days. For example, if you are teaching leaders how to delegate better, distill the knowledge about effective delegation into one actionable behavior. For example, we found that effective leaders tell employees what to do but not how to do it when they delegate projects and tasks (otherwise it’s micromanagement). Then associate the action with a specific cue, such as when the learner decides to delegate a project or task. And there you have a Leader Habit exercise that anyone can practice: After deciding to delegate a project or task, describe what needs to be accomplished but let the employee figure out how to do it. If the learners practice this exercise for 66 days, they form a new habit and become better at delegating. It’s that simple.
“Habit is stronger than reason.” -George Santayana