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Human Connection: The Most Important Role We’ll Ever Have

I wrote a version of this post a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court draft was leaked and I was thinking about it again this morning as I was having trouble concentrating because of the massacre in Uvalde, Texas. I know I’m not unique in feeling this way – I’ve talked with friends and other professionals here in the US who are having a really hard time this week, those who are parents and teachers especially. I am neither, but I do have a ten-year-old niece, whose face I can’t help but superimpose over all the victims as I consider the goofy and earnest conversations we have over FaceTime each weekend, how much she loves her stuffies and her family, how hard it was for her mom, my sister, to send her and her older sister to school yesterday morning.

We are people first, even at work, and I’d argue that it makes us better at our jobs – better colleagues, better leaders, better to our clients. It’s one of the things we saw during the pandemic. Yes, there were a LOT of terrible downsides, but I always try to see the silver lining – not because I’m a pollyanna, but because when we’re faced with awful things we have to go through, we still have to find a way through them.

I’m not suggesting that there is a silver lining in Texas. But I am saying that the pandemic has taught us that we need to show up for each other as humans first. When terrible things happen, we can’t just show up to work and pretend that we exist outside of them – we shouldn’t.

When life happens, it should be okay to feel it and to bring our full selves to work. And as leaders, it is essential to foster a sense of acceptance of that fullness. So how do we do that?

  • Live by example: Make it okay for others to share how they’re feeling by sharing how you’re feeling. We’ve talked about this here on Zen before with respect to the pandemic, in as much as you still need to come across as a strong and capable leader. But you can and should be able to be vulnerable too. Even if you’re not in a position of leadership, you can share how you’re feeling with others too – try, “I’m really struggling with x, how is that making you feel today?”
  • Make work a safe space: Genuinely ask others how they’re doing – stay up to date on what may be those touchpoints for people and check in with them (privately) to see how they are. If they need time off or to back off a project for a day because they’re feeling overwhelmed, give them the space and grace to do so, but without breaking their confidence or punishing them professionally. Employees and colleagues should be able to be vulnerable without consequence. Some things will affect some people more than others – was there a recent hate crime against an AAPI community member? Was there a shooting of a Black person? In this instance, do the parents in your office need to pick their kids up from school to get eyes on them, and then work from home for the rest of the day? What are some of the accommodations and check-ins you can make to ensure that people feel heard, seen, and comforted?
  • Create resources: You may be a great shoulder to lean on, but you may not be the person that they want to talk to. Sometimes a professional or an employee resource group is a better solution. Have those resources in place in advance and then enable and encourage your teams to use them when they need to.
  • Show your support: When it is a human issue, it’s critical that the groups in question know that they are supported both in words AND action by the firm/company they work for (and honestly, preferably before a social issue arises that causes strife). Now would be a great time to review with your ERGs what action plans you have, review your healthcare, etc. Then, you can reaffirm your actions with words as needed. You’ll also want to know who your firm/company donates to politically, if anyone, and who they may be representing as a firm, because members of your firm may have questions about that which haven’t previously come up.

The world can be a challenging place at the moment, but what we have is each other. We spend most of our lives at work, and we are all better when we bring our full selves there, whatever that looks like. As leaders, we are called to support the real humans that we work with, and when we do, we’ll all be better for it.