Making employees feel cared for is the single most powerful contributing factor to their well-being, loyalty, and performance at work. It also fosters trust, the cornerstone of effective and healthy organizations.
Simon Sinek and Shawn Achor are two well-known thought leaders and writers who explore the importance of cooperation, trust, optimism and gratitude in achieving business potential and success. Sinek’s TED presentations on leadership and Achor’s “The Happy Secret to Better Work” are engaging explorations of this topic.
If it is true that well-being and success go hand in hand, why is there so much discontent in our workplaces? Gallup reports that only 30% of all employees in the United States are productive, satisfied, and willing to go the extra mile. Gallup also estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 to $550 billion in lost productivity each year.
Leaders must remind themselves that they hold the key to changing this dynamic. Connected Leaders know change starts with them and that the most courageous work they do is on themselves. As a result, they wrestle with their own fears, celebrate their strengths, and learn to contain damaging behaviors that surface during times of stress. They invite others to do the same, recognizing that each person must make the commitment to show up with their best self. No one can do it for anyone else.
I worked with a global client team who was motivated to enhance well-being. In six short months, engagement increased by 20 points. Why? Because the top leaders, while not perfect, started with themselves; they were transparent and open; they made changes. They stood up and said, “This is who I am. This is what I am going to do differently.” Their direct reports did the same, allowing self-awareness and healthy actions to cascade through the team.
No one is suggesting that organizations transform themselves into adult versions of summer camp. Work is still work. Budgets must be managed, deals closed, shareholders satisfied, and difficult personalities dealt with.
Still, what we know is that for companies to reach their true potential, their employees must must also be able to reach theirs. The path to highest potential starts with leaders reaching within themselves first.
Earlier this summer I visited Colorado. I rose early one morning, wrapped myself in a blanket, and had my coffee by a beautiful stream. Not long after I settled in, a herd of elks meandered down the mountain, stopping slowly along the way to eat, graze, and wade in the brook. I was mesmerized by how they walked slowly, in step with each other, with such intention. It was just me – the lone human – and about 35 mama elks and their babies. One came so close to me that we looked into each other’s eyes, holding our gaze for a few seconds before she turned her enormous head and walked toward her buddies. I felt as if she was trying to tell me something; I can still see her eyes as I write this.
I wanted to know more about this animal and why, in that moment, they crossed my path. What was the message they carried? I came to learn that Native American people believed that when elk crossed your path they were a reminder of how important it is to pace yourself on your journey, with strength and stamina. They also remind us that connection and community are of the utmost importance in order to persevere.
I don’t know about you, but I really needed that message. The work I am doing on myself as summer’s end draws near is hard. Leadership is not for the faint-hearted and neither is being a parent, a spouse, a family member, or true friend. I need my community more than ever. I need to pull on my inner strength and persevere with intentional grace and wisdom. And I needed to know that when life feels like it is falling apart it is falling into place … and I have the elk to thank for the reminder.