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Team Effectiveness

Leadership in a Human-Centric World

Leadership in a Human-Centric World (1)

Looking Through a New Lens of Leadership

Every individual in your organization has a unique set of experiences, aspirations, and goals in both their personal and professional lives. It is through these unique experiences that we create dynamic and diverse teams that can propel collective success. By recognizing and understanding the complexities of the people on their team, leaders can better exercise compassion and empathy, fostering a better work environment and a more cohesive team.

A Dresser, A Check, And A Water Bill

Like many people who have traditional Monday through Friday workweeks, I spend my weekends taking on activities and hobbies that I typically cannot make time for during the evenings. Whether that is visiting a local museum, taking a hike at the state park, or spending some extra time with family, there is always something that brings me joy and energizes me outside of work.

For the last few years, I have spent many weekends refinishing midcentury furniture pieces I collect from dumpsters, junkyards, and the side of the road to practice my woodworking and refinishing hobby. I enjoy taking something older, possibly damaged or forgotten, and turning it back into a beautiful piece of art that can fulfill its purpose again.

I recently came across a midcentury dresser that was built in the 1940s and ripe for refinishing—a solid structure, beautiful walnut wood, and unique dovetail joints that are hard to come by in modern, mass-produced furniture. As I started the process of refinishing the piece, a few documents slipped out from behind one of the drawers: a check from the 1980s marked boldly with a faded red ‘PAID’ stamp on it, and a small water bill document from years prior, where the owner used 9,000 gallons of water and paid less than the equivalent of today’s average cheeseburger at a popular restaurant.

This is one of my favorite parts of starting a new refinishing project—finding things from previous owners. Nothing is quite like working on a piece of furniture that has been passed through generations and spent time with so many different people.

While the 1980s were not too long ago, I began to get curious about the people behind the dresser, the check, and the water bill. A quick search led me to read about the lives of a married couple who, in their later years, settled a few hours north of me and lived very different lives during a very different time in the early 1900s. With their devotion to their community and a large family behind them, I am sure their weeknights and weekends were much like mine, filled with hobbies and activities that kept them busy and their lives complex.

This got me thinking of a somewhat unusual word that has gained popularity recently, coined by author John Koenig:

Sonder: The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passing in the street, has a life as complex as one's own, which they are constantly living despite one's personal lack of awareness of it.

While we may be the main character in our own lives, in many ways, we are a supporting actor in the lives of others. For me, I was simply the woman who, decades later, came across a dresser, a check, and a water bill from a family who used and cherished it for years.

A Leader’s Complex Connection

Leadership is an ever-evolving challenge that requires a nuanced understanding of people, dynamics, and the environment. Leaders who embrace a human-centric leadership style find themselves better equipped to navigate the complexities of guiding a team.

My experience with the dresser, the check, and the water bill prompted a moment of clarity that invited empathy and understanding for the diverse journeys happening around us. For leaders who are currently overseeing their team, this idea of “sonder” can be an opportunity for personal growth, fostering compassion, and promoting a deeper connection with the people around you, especially amongst your team and organization. The three key takeaways that stood out to me from this experience are:

  1. Empathy is a fundamental leadership skill. Understanding that each team member carries a unique set of challenges and triumphs enables leaders to connect on a deeper level. This connection fosters trust, open communication, and a positive work environment. When employees feel their leaders genuinely care about their well-being, it creates a sense of belonging, contributing to higher job satisfaction and retention rates. Despite being named a soft skill, it is clear that empathetic leadership is not to be overlooked. It is a vital leadership competency that has a host of benefits in a professional setting.
  2. Diversity and inclusion are necessary in leadership. Recognizing the richness of diverse backgrounds and perspectives within a team contributes to innovation and creativity. An inclusive workplace is where employees feel valued, involved, and respected for the viewpoints, ideas, perspectives, and unique experiences they bring. Inclusive leaders foster these concepts, connecting with each employee on a personal level, ensuring they’re an integral part of the organization and actively contributing to the betterment of it.
  3. Leaders should empower their team. The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® are the practices and behaviors that strong leaders demonstrate, based on more than 30 years of research by The Leadership Challenge co-authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. One of the practices, Enable Others to Act, encourages leaders to strengthen their team and build mutual respect, striving to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. Understanding the intricacies of individual lives allows leaders to provide support and guidance tailored to each person. This approach creates a sense of community and shared purpose within the team.
As leaders, our journey is not solely about achieving goals and driving results; it's about cultivating a profound understanding of the human experience. With its revelation of the intricate lives surrounding us, sonder is a reminder to lead with empathy, embrace diversity, and foster resilient teams. Looking at leadership through a human-centric lens is a way in which we can truly see, connect, and lead with purpose.

The Leadership Challenge® Workshop is a research-based, proven method to increase leadership effectiveness. In this workshop, you will learn how to apply The Leadership Challenge® model, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®, in a variety of situations, from your current role to your future goals. Follow the link below to sign up for the public workshop and explore how The Leadership Challenge® can increase leadership effectiveness across all industries, organizations, and leader levels:

The Leadership Challenge Open Enrollment Workshop

Kara Janssen

Kara Janssen creates engaging content that connects our clients to the FlashPoint brand and mission, helping them grow as leaders.