Creating change within ourselves isn’t easy, and trying to do it with a whole team could seem like the deck is stacked against you.
What I want to convey through this article is a simple yet powerful approach to help cultivate better team environments and culture based on transparency and honesty.
It’s essential to understand the foundation of change! It’s people, listening, and being the example through the process.
Understanding people is a pretty big task, but if I’ve learned anything through my years of coaching and personal development work, it’s one thing. Fear runs most people most of the time. It’s a core driver for most people and keeps so many locked in their shells, afraid to speak up, afraid to share the truth, and afraid to be themselves.
When a leader can understand and see this about their people, they will see many of their team’s limitations. Your team probably already has most of the answers, but it’s the people who aren’t sharing that might have the best solutions. The quiet types are quiet for a reason. Their brains are working on the answers, and that’s part of their trap. They might be afraid to share them because they’re not 100% sure if their answers are right.
To understand people, it’s essential to understand the fundamentals of the ego. The ego is designed to keep us separate and feel different than others. It is designed for us to feel guilty and shameful. It is designed to keep us stuck in fear. It helps me to think of the ego as separate from the person I am working with.
It’s better for the ego NOT to share information because if it did, it could be wrong… Too many people live with this mindset. “It’s better to be safe than sorry!” Even in the safest of environments, it will default to this.
Understanding that this is the base operating system for most humans, you can approach working with people a little differently. That way is one where leaders share openly and vulnerably, creating an environment of trust.
Here are a few things you can do to help create a more open, transparent team:
1. Share about your life and some of the struggles you’ve had. For example: If you had trouble speaking up at meetings, share that. Most people think it’s just easy for you to speak up or talk in front of a group. When they realize you’ve had to work on this, they will feel more open to sharing as well.
2. Share about a failure you’ve had at work or in your life. Be vulnerable and share something real. Let them know you’re a human.
3. During your next team meeting, acknowledge each team member for something specific they’ve done to contribute
Listening is a skill to master. It’s the quieting of the mind, which is the skill beneath the skill to master. When someone listens to another person, they feel understood. When that person feels understood, they trust more. When trust is there, more communication happens. When meaningful communication happens, barriers get removed, and more work gets done. As a bonus, it’s a more enjoyable relationship to be in as well.
It’s a simple concept to follow, but it’s not as easy in practice. It’s because we all have that little tiny voice in our heads that doesn’t shut up. It’s always judging and assessing everyone and everything. Quieting this voice so you can hear others is the biggest challenge. The ability to listen long enough to understand is the skill to master.
One of the best skills I’ve ever learned is called reflective listening. In short, it’s a technique where you reshare what someone has just said back to them. When you do this, that person feels heard and understood. You also understand more in-depth what’s going on for that person. Check out this presentation I did with Ambition in Motion that goes further into the process. Video Link
Our egos are based on feeling separate/different and are always on defense. They are ready to attack or listening to react. It’s hard to listen and let information in when the shields are up by default. Our egos are designed like this, and this is why it’s so hard for people to listen. It’s like two teams always on defense the whole time. No progress ever happens.
Here are a few techniques that will help you listen more effectively.
1. Listen to each person as if you’ve never met them before. The ABC’s of Listening… Always Be Curious. Instead of Always Be Closing… Always Be Curious. 🙂
2. Practice reflective listening. The simplest way to do this is to start like this. Listen to them and say this. “What I heard you say is the following” then add in what they said but with your interpretation. Then ask them, “Is that what you meant?”
3. Give up thinking you know them. Ask questions and then Ask more questions. I’ve met couples married for 40 years, and they are still learning about each other.
BEING THE EXAMPLE
Being the example of a relatable human and one who listens is the foundation of a great team. The more you start to do this with your groups, the more you’ll begin to see a shift in your teams and teamwork.
My Real Life Example
I’ll always remember when I was the leader of a community project, and I finally got what it meant to be an inspiring leader. Let me set the context of the story first, though.
In 2018 I took on the initiative to rehab a local non-profit called the ManKind Project lodge. The Mankind Project(MKP) is a non-profit dedicated to serving men and helping them transform their lives by teaching them how to understand their emotions. It’s a fantastic organization that saves lives. In my opinion, most men don’t understand their feelings and the impact they have. They run most men instead of understanding them.
The MKP space badly needed to be rehabbed. It was in horrible condition. No one wanted to take on the renovation project, let alone the task of unifying the group together to do it.
I pulled together a core group of men in the community to help me lead the renovation. After we created a shared vision and goal, we got to work on the cleanup and restoration. Over several months I led the project to completion. That itself was amazing for me but what was inspiring was when I showed up at the lodge one afternoon. I was there to start taking the old chairs away because new ones were just donated. However, when I showed up, another man was already there, loading the chairs up to be hauled off. It felt great to see people just contributing and wanting to give back on their own. It was amazing.
During the project, I sought to understand, I listened, and I was vulnerable. It wasn’t easy. I’ll tell you that but well worth it.
I learned how to create a team, a shared vision with them, and when you show up to be the example, people will step up and help make a difference.
You can see the before and after pictures with the full story here.