My “Single Story” of Bias

I called a big software company yesterday for support. I had just purchased a new subscription for software and could not figure out for the life of me how to set it up.  So by the time I had a chance to speak with a real person I was frazzled and frustrated.

To make matters worse, the support person pronounced my name incorrectly so I promptly correctly him. He quickly apologized. I had a very difficult time understanding his accent as he tried to walk me through the steps to resolve my issue and get me started. I was having a hard time following his instructions. So as is natural, he started speaking louder as if I was hard of hearing.  I said, you don’t have to raise your voice, I can hear you but I don’t understand you.  As it turns out, he admitted that he was having trouble with my southern accent also.  What?

I asked the young man where he was from and he replied, “the United Kingdom”.  Then I asked again, “Where are you from originally?”.  Shyly he responded, Ghana.  The young man was from Ghana, a country in West Africa with a population of 25 million.  His name was Emmanuel.

At that moment  I was aware of our shared humanity. I call these moments “oh shit” awareness moments. I realized that we were both doing our best in a challenging situation.  And in that moment, I was reminded of a Nigerian novelest, who has written an important piece about the danger of a single story.  It is a Ted talk that is well worth your time: 

I told Emmanuel about the wonderful novelist, Chimamanda Adichie who was very funny and bright.  I suggested he listen to her talk. When I admitted that I was expressing my bias towards him, Emmanuel  softened.  He admitted that he was doing his best to help me. I told Emmanuel that I appreciated how patient he was being with me, and I was sorry that I had been difficult because I was so frustrated.

Chimamnanda translated means “God can never fail” and Emmanuel translated means “God with us”.  I am blessed by an important lesson from 2 different people from 2 very different countries in Africa. What a lovely gift that I can take with me to consider how I express my bias and how I want to change.


Gifts of Regard

How often do we express regard for others?  Whether we are in an official leadership role or not, it is so important to thank our colleagues from time to time.   We all value being valued. What we do matters, and it is especially validating when our efforts are recognized by others. For this reason, I love Kegan and Lahey’s idea of expression of “ongoing regard” that they encourage in the workplace.

Here are the important elements of the “ongoing regard” process that help the experience be more powerful.   1. First, speak directly to the person telling them what it is that you regard. This can also be done in front of a group but keep it direct to the individual.  2. Next, be specific about the behavior or result of behavior that you appreciate.  3. Third, be nonattributive.  In other words, do not characterize the person’s qualities in any certain way just share your experience of the person.     Here’s an example that could be spoken directly:  “… Thanks Jess, I see you consistently supporting the team by typing meeting minutes which is so valuable because it keeps us on track and helps us remember important details.”    (Not:  Thanks, you are such a great note taker, you must love typing notes.)

The words spoken in this way can create a personal, intimate moment.  It might feel a little awkward the first time you do it.  But the result can be transforming for you and the receivers of your regard.  Keep practicing – be direct, specific and nonattributive. Then give yourself some sincere regard for this new behavior that you are working to develop.

(2001) Kegan R. and Lahey L, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work

Your Leadership Story

Our leadership stories shape who we are and how we respond to situations in the day-to-day actions and decisions of leading. In his book, The Leadership Contract, author Vince Molinaro reminded me that leaders are made not born.  In other words, we are shaped as leaders by our history of life experiences.  So those experiences that tested our resolve and strengthened our resilience make us better leaders. Reflecting on and understanding our  experiences help to shape our story.  (2016)

So what is my story and why do I need one?  Most of us are leaders in some time or place in our lives and will have a story about how we got there. According to Molinaro, the first step is to reflect on our personal experiences when we were at our best and when we were tested or faced adversity.   From those reflections, we will begin to identify common themes of where we demonstrated toughness or resilience, and where we were proud of how we demonstrated ethical behavior or a decision that made a positive impact. The emerging story can give us some clarity about who we are and why we lead the way we do.  The final step is to tell the story to those whom we lead because it is a powerful way to connect and allow others to know us at a deeper more human level.

What’s your story?

(2016) The Leadership Contract, Vince Molinaro

Networking Benefits

I was reminded of the power of networking recently when I was invited to join a group of business leaders in their monthly gathering.  The group is comprised of leader/owners of small to medium-size businesses.  They’ve been meeting for several years to discuss the day-to-day successes and ongoing challenges in their business(es). Everyone contributes by sharing their status update and everyone is expected to respond by providing feedback.  So each business leader gets multiplPeopleMeetinge perspectives on how they might address their challenges. And they get applauded for success such as business growth.

What surprises me about this group is their focus on supportive feedback combined with a celebration of success.  Being listened to by a confidential group of one’s peers with constructive ideas is powerful stuff, and this is followed by a shared celebration of your attained goals.  A very affirming experience.

Networking has so many benefits from generating referrals to raising your profile to building relationships. And this group’s purpose is certainly about all of that.  Being a small business owner is lonely at times, so finding support in the form of encouragement balanced with objective feedback is invaluable. And celebrating successes can be a gift that we rarely give ourselves.

In this group I experienced the power of networking in community, the power of listening, begin heard, engaging with peers, providing feedback, and the power of recognizing and celebrating successes with peers.


New Year’s Lesson

On New Year’s Eve I recalled some wisdom I learned from an influential healthcare leader.   The lesson is that we spend roughly one-third of our lives in bed, one-third of our lives at work and one-third of our lives with our family.  While we don’t have total control over our family members,  we can buy a great mattress and pursue a career we love.

Taking action where I have some control in my life is an obvious first step.  Added to this lesson, my goal this year is to increase my awareness of the dynamics in areas that I have little control yet have an opportunity to influence in constructive ways.

“Life is a flash of lightning in the dark of night. It is a brief time of tremendous potential.” – B. Alan Wallace