On the Opportunity for Leaders

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In my last post, I referred to the three fundamental needs all human beings have: security, connection, and meaning. Security feels like the most immediate one, since the need for survival has been hardwired into our bodies through millennia of evolution. That’s why Abraham Maslow put it at the base of his hierarchy of needs.

Leaders have a special responsibility because they have the power to provide a sense of safety for those they serve.

I’ve learned that, in communications, when any of the following show up, it means that safety is missing and might indicate the presence of the following emotions:

  • Flight: If you see someone trying to avoid a situation or duck a conversation, it might mean shame is at play. Perhaps, that person doesn’t want you to find out about a mistake they made or something they did.
  • Fight: If someone gets really defensive or combative, it may indicate guilt. That person might know that they are in the wrong and using the fight to direct our attention away from that wrong.
  • Freeze: When a person is frozen or unable to take any action, it might indicate that person is uncertain about the facts of the situation or about what to do.

When any of these behaviors shows up, it means that safety is missing, and that as leaders, we have an opportunity to contribute to meeting someone’s needs by trying to create a safe space for them.

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On the 3 Fundamental Needs We All Have

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There has been a lot of science lately – e.g. Rick Hanson, PhD – behind the development of the three brains that human beings have. That’s right: Not one brain but three!

The oldest and least evolved part of the brain is the reptilian brain. It is responsible for the fight/flight/freeze response and is about survival.

The second evolved brain is the mammalian brain, which is all about touch and relationship.

The last part of the brain to evolve is related to our sense of who we are in the grand scheme of things. It is about the unique contribution only we can make.

What these three brains tell us is that all people have three fundamental needs that have to be addressed:

  1. Security
  2. Connection
  3. Meaning

How are we fulfilling these needs in our own lives and the lives of those around us?

A Radical Perspective on Leadership

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I often tell my team at the Children’s Creativity Museum that everyone is a leader, and although my own personal leadership style continues to evolve to live up to this ideal, I know that my leadership is strongest when I rely on the wisdom of my team.

How we think about leadership shapes how we approach its presence and development in our lives. Behind our predominant economic model and our political structure is the very tricky idea that for there to be leaders, there have to be followers. A divide is created between those who are so-called “followers” and those who lead. An assumption is made about the capacity of others to make a difference.

How would we approach our leadership development differently if we came from the place that every single person has a contribution to make to the improvement of this world?

Rather than people being the cogs in the business machine, what if instead they each play a critical part in finding the best possible solution given the resource constraints?

 

On the Five Love Languages at Work

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I recently finished reading through The Five Love Languages for Men by Dr. Gary Chapman. Dr. Chapman is a marriage and family therapist, and after 30 years supporting his clients in their relationships, he offers the following assertions: Every person has a primary mode of expressing love – a “love language.” Challenges in relationships arise when we don’t realize that we literally are speaking a different language from our partner. The solution, then, is to find ways to communicate in our partner’s love language. (Dr. Chapman offers five primary love languages, each with their own dialects: Words of Affirmation; Quality Time; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service; and Physical Touch.)

I am finding that this concept has been helpful in thinking about how to acknowledge my staff for their hard work. We all have a basic need to be recognized for our contributions. And yet, managers get frustrated because they are communicating in their own love language, giving acknowledgments to their employees that employees don’t fully receive because the acknowledgment isn’t in their primary love language.

If we listen more closely to our coworkers, we can begin to hear what their primary love language is. We can get a better sense of how they wished to be recognized for their work.

And when we can acknowledge our coworkers the way they wish to be acknowledged, we are enhancing their job satisfaction without having to expend too much (if any) resource.

Weekly Pay It Forward (WPIF)

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Many of us have the practice of giving gratitude for the many good things that Life gives us. We pause in our day to develop that “attitude of gratitude” for the things we receive.

And yet, developing that attitude of gratitude also has just as much, if not more, to do with giving thanks for the things we are able to give. How are we giving to and making a difference for others? How are we contributing to the world?

When we give to others, we are telling the Universe – with Its infinite Abundance and Supply – that we trust that it will only give us more. It is the old adage that the more we give, the more we get.

So I propose a little experiment: In addition to our daily gratitude lists, let’s tune into WPIF: Weekly Pay It Forward. Own the ways in which you have given to others and to the world over the course of the last week. Even better, let’s start a little movement on Twitter: #WPIF, and remind others of the unique contributions only they can make.

Atlas Supported

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Yesterday, chinks started to show in my armor. I finally shared with my coworkers what is going on for me around my mother’s health. The overwhelming support and compassion meant the world to me as I struggled to hold back the deluge of tears and fears. I grew up with the belief that boys don’t go cry, … that it’s a sign of weakness to visibly express one’s emotions. And I’m not surprised that my brothers don’t seem as concerned about this situation as I am. After all, it’s early, and we need more test results.

My mother is the bedrock of our family. She is like Atlas carrying the entire weight of the world of our family on her shoulders. And she does all of it without showing much emotion. I can’t be like that. I’m scared. I don’t know what I would do without my mother. She is my everything. So I cry. And I share with others. And I let them see me in my most vulnerable state, trusting that they will hold me in Love and Compassion.

To allow others to see my vulnerability is not easy. Yet, it is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it allows others to see how they can contribute to me. And in inviting others to help, there is a strength that I discover that surpasses what I could shoulder alone.