A little kindness goes a long way. I remember my first job as an intern psychologist at Spoornet, a very Afrikaans organisation at that time. I was anxious, being in a new space in so many ways. My colleagues mostly White Afrikaans, at all levels were kind in welcoming me, helping me to be successful at my job and we continue to be friends over the years.
Some organisations are not wired in that way. They believe that ‘tough is best’; the workplace is harsh and survival of the fittest is better in the long term. Yet we know too well how the resulting ‘macho’, patriarchal leadership style (in both men and women)causes comes at a high cost of toxic organisations.
We don’t need fancy engagement strategies. Start with the basics of ubuntu, of common humanity. Be kind to one another. Kindness is expressed in respect and honouring the dignity of another. The rest will follow. St Paul in the Bible reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that Love is kind. William James put it clearly, “Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
This week, where might you find opportunities to be kind?
Change only occurs when someone, somewhere takes responsibility for a situation. Kurt Lewin, the father of organisational change theories, pointed out more than fifty years ago that the first stage in change involved ‘induced anxiety or guilt – a realisation that I am in some way responsible’. Instead of externalising blame onto other people, they realise that they are in some way responsible and that they can do something about it. Perhaps then I should not be so surprised that the OD exercise that has had the biggest impact on the organisations I work with is simply when I stop and ask people to answer:
How have I contributed to this situation which I complain about?
I tend to send people away on their own to prayerfully listen to God about how they have contributed to a situation. In dealing with hurt and frustrations it is important to get people out of a ‘blamestorming’ attitude. It allows God to bring conviction, not people to condemn each other. I have often found that changing people’s physical environment helps in this, suggesting they listen to God while going for a walk or sitting outside. The key is to create a safe space to consider the question in a meaningful way.
If we look at our own lives, where are we blaming others for a situation?
Let’s stop and ask ourselves: ‘How have I contributed to this?’
Many of us have gathered to pray for Ukraine these past weeks. Some of us have even been invited to pray with Christians from both Ukraine and Russia. But it has not been easy to pray. How do I pray in times of conflict and war?
The Bible describes several approaches to prayer:
The Psalms reverberate with prayers that give voice to anger, fear and anxiety, alongside joy and overwhelming relief (when the Psalmist realises that God is present amidst this troubled world). A repeating chorus throughout many psalms is: “Why are you downcast, my soul?… Put your hope in God”. We are called to patience and hope, looking out for God even in places where he seems not to be.
We see Jesus embodying another approach when Jesus says to priest, who has lost his daughter, “Do not fear, only believe”. It sounds insensitive, even arrogant, to say something like that to a person who has lost a family member. But Jesus calls this man, and us, to resist the temptation – even when faced with death – to let fear take over. Faith, not fear, should lead what we think, believe and do.
I’m sure there are also other ways to pray. But let’s reconsider the question: How do we pray facing war, insecurity and evil? I wonder if Jesus might respond: ‘This is how you should pray… Our Father…’ When we pray the Lord’s Prayer with war and conflict at the front of our minds, we see that it involves so much – solidarity with the suffering, seeing God’s love at work, resisting temptation, God confronting evil… Sometimes the prayer, Our Father, is the only suitable response to impossible situations.
We would like to say thanks to everyone who participated in the Space for Grace Leading with Hope webinar on the 26th of November. It was such a great opportunity to get to know some of the Space for Grace members. Thanks for sharing your lives, what you do, where you are and how you have been during this time of pandemic. We feel very much encouraged to know that you are willing to bless each other and to encourage one another.
During the discussion time, we heard most of you talked about reconnecting to the purpose of why we do what we do. This challenging COVID time had allowed us to reconsider the spiritual part of what we do, why we are where we are and to reset our priorities. It has also given us the time filled with opportunities for soul care, to take time off and to replenish. The importance of bringing hope to people has been even more important. One participant shared how people have been more open during this time.
This week, as you look back at the last year, how has life been? Where do you see God working? – Where do you get your hope? How do you replenish that? How do you care for your soul? – How do you try to inspire others with hope? What tips do you have?
If you have thoughts to share from the webinar and as you reflect on these questions, please feel free to get in touch with us. We will help you turn them into Weekly Thoughts that can be shared with this wider community.
This second stage places particular moral hazards for leaders to maintain trust from being seen as ‘benevolent’ (‘on my side’). Technology has enabled more contact between different levels of staff. On the whole, this has made leaders appear more accessible, humane and empathetic. But having broken down the barriers of formality, how then do both parties deal with uncomfortable conversations about redundancies? How will that exposure to the fragility of home lives play out when making difficult decisions? Will the ‘mutuality of sacrifice’ be sustained into this next stage?
In addition, health issues may not end soon. There may be a backlog of trauma and stress from the last 18 months, particularly for any NGOs and churches working on the frontline. Many staff may be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted (and leaders too). To be seen as benevolent and therefore trusted, you may need to become champions of physical and mental health for your hybrid workforces. This was probably not on the list of core leadership competencies when you started your job!
How do you think your co-workers would assess whether you are not ‘on their side’? What one thing could you do differently this week to show that you genuinely care?
Leading during a pandemic is incredibly tough. People are worried and uncertain, so their brains are reacting neurologically to a high threat response. I find this acronym CARER (from Jon Pratlett) helpful in thinking about how we might lead:
Certainty – Strive to create certainty, wherever possible – even in minor ways. “When you give people any information at all, it activates the reward networks in the brain because the brain craves information. Any kind of ambiguity, on the flipside, creates a threat response.”
Autonomy – At a time of uncertainty, try and offer unexpected autonomy and flexibility. Even giving people the option of choosing a time for their performance review might reduce some threat!
Relatedness (Belonging) – humans are social beings. So as leaders, “if we take a genuine interest in our people, in who they are, what’s going on at home, increases empathy and understanding and encourages effectiveness in spite of the virtual environment.”
Equity – At times of uncertainty, we need a sense of fairness in how we and others are treated. Some people will be more productive virtually, others will be less (those with home-schooling or caring responsibilities for example). Watch out for a ‘crisis of fairness’.
Recognition – Working virtually we need recognition more than ever at the moment. We need to feel appreciated and listened to. Also when giving feedback remember that people are especially sensitive right now.
As you look to the week ahead, consider what one or two things you could do differently to increase CARER amongst the people you work with.
Good leaders love their teams. It feels almost sacrilegious to connect work, leadership and love. Somehow we have been socialised to believe love stays outside the workplace. The Sufi poet, Kahlil Gibran, teaches us that ‘work is love made visible’.
To some extent, the industrial revolution commoditised people and sanitised any emotion in the workplace. They become an object in a big machine. We talk about system, process and results and lose the people. Yet we know that every person coming to work is looking for an expression of love and a sense of belonging, which is our primary need. In the absence of loving workplaces, we have corporate toxicity, abuse and burnout. We can show workplace love in some practical ways: daily/weekly check-in with staff; paying full attention when speaking to staff, especially with distracting technology; giving open, honest feedback in a kind and constructive manner and being open to receiving feedback as leaders. All of our corporate wellness, diversity, inclusion and development programmes can be leveraged for good when intentionally grounded in love.
The Forbes article, Leading With Love: An Unconventional Approach To Leadership, seeks to balance professionalism and caring. “With the right boundaries intact, showing genuine concern or compassion for the people you lead will not diminish your respectability or reputation as a strong leader, but it will instead bring out the best in them while fostering an environment that is conducive to thriving…Showing love is not a license for your team to be incompetent. Instead, it conveys that their job performance is not the only thing that matters to you as a leader. They matter too.”
This week, how practically might I lead with love?
2021 has started badly. As I write COVID-19 is ripping its way through Southern Africa for the first time. A very close friend has just died. Jesus’ words in John 16 “In this world you will have trouble… ” feels all too true. At hard times like this I know I have to allow Jesus to finish his sentence for me “… but take heart for I have overcome the world.”
Hope does not arise from things looking positive, nor wishful thinking, nor superficial optimism. Hope starts byacknowledging the deep pain, confusion and frustrations of the current realities. Yet it does not languish there. Hope discerns and then works towards a goal. Hope is a motivation to persevere towards that goal even when we are not sure of the outcome. Hope is a virtue, not a personality type. It is a mindset that helps us to stay in the game in the face of significant adversity.
That mindset is based, not on circumstances, but on our faith in Jesus. Faith and hope (and love) are inextricably linked. It matters where we put our faith.
If I really knew, deep down, that Jesus has overcome the world:
• What difference would this make to the way I see my week ahead?
• What would I do differently in the light of this knowledge?
Logic drives me like a wasp. A wasp can’t bend the window glass and I can’t shift this charity. Time to slip sideways.
I head out and ease into the rhythm of walking. At the top of the hill I catch sight of a kestrel, our smallest bird of prey. It’s hanging in the air, hardly moving, held up by the breeze.
As I ponder the kestrel I am reminded of the verse: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty’ Zechariah 4v6. I rethink my approach: less slog, more nudging allies and being nudged. When did this sideways thought come?
When I’d moved. Alain de Botton says:
‘Journeys are the midwives of thought .. . There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places.
Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.
The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do. The task can be as paralyzing as having to tell a joke or mimic an accent on demand. Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks, are charged with listening to music or following a line of trees.’ (The Art of Travel).
Where might you need to go to get a larger, smaller or unusual perspective? Or what other activity may prompt a sideways thought?