In this opinion piece, Elyse Foley (pictured), group business director at Initiative, talks about some personal experience relating to outdated advice in the industry and how everyone could go about implementing changes.
We all recall the shockwaves caused by the now infamous Grace Tame photo taken with Scott Morrison earlier this year. Her ‘sin’ was not smiling. The response from the public and media was polarising and immediate.
I am ashamed to say I did think she was wrong. Be polite, be respectful… isn’t that what we have been taught? After reading different perspectives I changed my mind and it made me question what other advice I may have taken as gospel, allowing it to shape my world view and influence the way I live and lead, particularly at work.
Just as children are influenced by their early years, as adults we are influenced by our early career experiences. These experiences shape the stories we tell ourselves and the way we lead others.
This is important because future generations grow up with different advice and as a result their expectations, behaviours and experiences will be different. They speak their minds; they have different perspectives around what should and should not be shared amongst their peers; they have different values
As leaders, I believe it is our responsibility to create the best environment for our teams to thrive. To constantly seek the best for our businesses and our people. So often we are unaware of what has shaped our beliefs and as such are not able to assess their validity in the current context. As a result, our beliefs and past experiences have the power to influence our reactions and can act as a barrier to embrace change. In turn this can impact our teams.
Three personals career experiences come to mind:
We are more than our metaphorical 9 to 5
When I first started working my dad told me not to ask clients about their lives. He said it was none of my business what they do outside of work. It turns out that is the exact opposite of what we should do. As the pandemic and WFH has shown, people are much more than their metaphorical 9 to 5 and true connection comes from understanding the whole person not just their work persona. The impact of wearing a work mask means missed opportunity to build great relationships, to do brilliant work and to unlock potential.
Everyone’s voice is important
Early in my career I was told “don’t speak up or challenge people who’ve been in the workforce for longer than you”. This became an unintentional learned behaviour and I spent years holding back and deferring to my bosses. As a result, when I became a leader, I did not always encourage my team to speak up as much as I should have. The scary thing is people still perpetuate this advice today when the opposite should be encouraged. Everyone has a point of view and brings a different perspective, it is what drives creativity and allows us to find new solutions to our clients’ business problems. Discouraging young people from contributing limits their growth and their impact. Ideas can come from anywhere and every voice counts. Yes, we need to be informed and educated. But this can be achieved while encouraging everyone to contribute.
We need to get better at boundaries
The final piece of outdated advice is arguably something that has contributed to our always- connected-burn-the-candle-at-both-ends culture as the unspoken rule was as a junior you should never leave before your boss and that as a leader you should never leave before your team. If everyone lived by this philosophy no one would ever go home! These days, healthy boundaries, prioritising mental wellbeing, and productivity over slaving at the desk are encouraged. But I can confidently say that there is still a part me that is guided by my past experiences. Even the smallest of actions like responding to emails on the weekend re-enforce a culture of needing to be constantly connected to our now virtual and pocket-sized “desks”.
My challenge to current industry leaders is to question the advice that has perhaps shaped your perspective and ultimately break any experience bias that exists. This can be done in 3 steps:
- Become aware. Ask yourself if there is any advice that has shaped your current view and challenge yourself on whether it is still correct.
- Share. Tell someone about it: a friend, team member or colleague. Self-reflection is not enough. Sharing creates a change dialogue and forces introspection amongst the collective. Talk to your boss as well. They could bring a different perspective. Different opinions create great conversations that lead to growth on both sides.
- Care. Evaluate the impact and ask: “is this helpful or is it creating a barrier for change”?
Identifying these views and their impact is important at any time, however it is particularly important when retention and recruitment challenges are at an all-time high. COVID has expedited workplace dynamics allowing more flexibility and freedom than most people thought possible. Now we know what can be achieved, we must as leaders continue to create an environment where our people can truly flourish, at work and at home.
To do this we must change the status quo. Now that the water-cooler conversation isn’t as easily accessible in a hybrid world, communication is even more important. We need to think of new ways to encourage important conversations that bring to light our personal experience bias and any outdated advice that could be holding us back.
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