Leaders Being Seen

I was in a meeting recently with a potential client, who had called me in and they wanted me to speak at a conference. They wanted me to speak on unconscious bias, diversity, and inclusion. In the process, I asked them why they wanted me to speak on that and what made them decide on the topic. I discovered that they had recently done a staff survey, and one of the key things that came up was that people didn’t feel that it was an inclusive organisation. In other words, the employees didn’t feel that there was a level of confidence with either their age or gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation and that it was impacting how they were viewed in the workplace. So, they said, ‘Why don’t you come in and do a keynote presentation?’

In response, I said, ‘Well what are you trying to achieve?’, in an attempt to try to understand what they were wanting to do, and of course, what they wanted to do was be a more inclusive organisation. In the process, I asked them why they were not being inclusive right now? Why are people saying that there is no inclusion? At this stage the people I was meeting with couldn’t answer the question. So I said, ‘Why don’t we just do some focus groups?’ And they said ‘Well, what do you want to find out in those focus groups?’ And I said, ‘Why don’t we just ask them about their experience of working here? Because if they can tell us that, we can then find out what the issues are.’

When you bring in somebody who’s external to ask those questions, you can actually speak with some candour. You can either do one on one interviews or you can do small focus groups where you can have a conversation with candour. You need to provide a level of psychological safety because you’re trying to identify certain things, but you’re not looking for specific things that people say. Then by doing a presentation or doing an intervention, you can actually address what is currently happening in the workplace.

One of the ways I actually challenged the leader at that time was by asking her, ‘Do you walk around the floor? How do people look when they are on the floor? Is there a level of fun? Is there a level of joy in the work? Are people happy? Are they smiling?’ I said, ‘You can tell a lot by just walking the floor.’ There is something about the energy, about the environment that will radiate from a workplace. She said, no, she never did that because she was too busy doing things in the office. Which I think is part of the issue in terms of being inclusive because as leaders, we need to be seen.

As a leader, one of the most valuable things you can do with your people is actually give them your time. One of the things that all good leaders do is, I think, walk the floor. In other words, you create opportunities for informal conversations. Not formal conversations, which of course happen all the time, but informal conversations. As a leader, it’s useful to go not just to your next level, but perhaps a couple of levels down and those conversations only happen on an informal basis. It gives you an opportunity to check in and I think it’s really a useful question to ask people, ‘what’s your experience of working here?’ Because they will have a different view to you. They may provide you with some interesting insights and observations that you may not have considered.

So that’s my reflection point for you. What can you do? Who can you ask that question to? And what can you learn from it? What’s your experience of working here? And remember, you need to provide psychological safety. You don’t want to have people feel fearful of speaking to you, yet it’s a way of checking in to find out other people’s experience of working in your organisation.

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