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Looking in the mirror

‘Attract what you expect, reflect what you desire, become what you respect, mirror what you admire’ Anon

How many leaders and organisations have a ‘set of values’ and a ‘mission statement’ which they say underpins all that they do and yet can honestly say, hand on heart that they try to live these daily, to absorb and reflect on what they mean and take a looking glass and check their reflection – do I mirror what I admire? This is a great tool if that is the case…but there is often a disparity between the two.

When setting up my website, I had for the first time, to reflect on my own personal values, - not those of a group, but what truly are my own values? It was really a refreshing exercise. I’ll admit at first, I thought to do as I would with any ‘work exercise’ – I would start by looking at ‘good examples of values’. But after speaking with a good friend, I was told ‘Sarah – you know exactly what you are about’, just think about that and write them down.

A short while later, it was truly liberating; I wrote my own values and the exercise was so empowering. Reflecting on what is important to me and consciously recognising the values by which I act and make my decisions, made me reflect once more on what a powerful tool, when embedded and applied, a set of agreed values can be, particularly when faced with a challenging situation. As leaders, it is so critical that we continually develop our self-awareness and self-regulation and that we can balance our cortex and limbic brain response. Using our values and mission statement in this way can really help.

I then came across the quote at the top of this blog and this is what got me thinking further about values and organisational culture.

‘Attract what you expect’ an interesting turn of phrase. Although I speak as an educator, I believe the following reflections are relevant and transferable to any organisational setting.

I have many times answered the question ‘how do you encourage positive behaviours?’ often in the context of students whose behaviour might need managing. This got me thinking about the difference between the leadership culture for adults and the understanding we have of interaction with young people and the frequent nonsensical gap. The answer to the question would be any, and all of the following

· Build good relationships – know individuals

· Meet and greet with a smile

· Clear expectations

· Regular feedback - make sure to balance positives

· Help individuals identify for themselves their next steps (not weaknesses!)

· ‘Catch them doing well’ – recognise their strengths

· Be fair always

· Watch your language – frame things with positive language

· Attitude to mistakes – reframe

It is curious! We spend hours reflecting and refining this with reference to young people, but the very same is true of developing a healthy and culturally prosperous and productive organisation of adults, yet the behaviours can be different.

Building good relationships – know your staff / Meet and greet staff with a smile

One of the more enjoyable experiences most of us experience is a trip to the hairdressers. Part of that is the conversation you have, where incredibly, your hairdresser seems to remember so much about you. A couple of personal questions and you really feel valued and cared about as a customer! Now, I’m not saying that this is not genuine… but there is a little trick here. A hairdresser friend of mine told me about the client book, where he jots down a couple of points each time a customer revisits and it allows for that immediate connection and positive experience when you next nip in for a cut! The same is true with our staff. That little point remembered creates engagement and a sense of value.

Clear expectations

If the work of our staff and the outcomes are not as we want for our organisation, the first place we should be looking is to ourselves. I’m not saying that there is not responsibility and accountability sitting fairly and squarely on the shoulders of every individual in the team, but once again, we should be looking in our mirror and asking ourselves first – have I been fully clear? Do I know this member of staff? Have I checked they are fully equipped and understanding what we are aiming for and have I built a relationship where they can ask for help or clarification? Have I been checking in with them regularly?

Regular feedback, balancing the positives / Help individuals identify for themselves their next steps (not weaknesses!) / ‘Catch them doing well’ – recognise their strengths

All the above behaviours feed into building a culture of confidence and freedom to create and produce as individuals and as a team. We are constantly looking at how we develop a community of staff that embrace diversity, yet diversity can seem like a threat if staff are lacking in confidence or feeling their value as a member of the team is under threat.

I believe that a lot of poor behaviours and performance of individuals and teams are the result of insecurity or fear. Fear is such a powerful and negative emotion and certainly not what we desire to attract! The right organisational culture has a direct impact on not only the happiness of employees but on creativity, co-operation and continual growth. If an individual feels insecure, unrecognised or unappreciated, they will not look with fully open eyes and hear with an open heart the ideas and concepts of others.

Instead, part of their energy is always diverted to their personal anxieties and desire for success and this creates a lack of symbiosis. Equally, they will not feel free to be different or have a different idea or approach for fear that it will potentially undermine their status in the group. We are then more likely to get people ‘going with the flow’, agreeing with the more dominant and ‘approved of’ team members.

The emotion of fear has twice the weighting and influence on any decision when balanced against the incentive of reward. We are all to one degree or another risk-averse. If we build the confidence of our team, knowing and taking an interest in staff, recognising and building the strengths of individuals and encouraging ‘culture fit behaviours’ then we will then see and enjoy the fruits of a company that values and builds on diversity.

Be fair always

Good old unconscious bias! Now, this is not just about race or gender. There is so much more to this. I’ve chatted quite a lot with colleagues and most will say ‘I never thought I was biased in any way until I understood a little more.

All human beings have a bias, but the difference is, once we recognise this and become more self-aware, we are better equipped to self-regulate our actions and responses through recognising where it may be coming into play. In the days of the cavemen, if people saw a different tribe, they would perceive them as a potential threat to survival, not knowing anything about them and wondering at the very least…’ Will they eat my food?’ - hence potential hostility.

Similarly, we all have sub-conscious ‘affinity bias’ which means we connect quickly with people we see as similar in some way to ourselves and therefore ‘less of a threat’. So we see, that through leadership openly recognising and valuing the diverse strengths, differences, opinions and approaches of all team members, it is a strong way to eliminate the fear factor and inspire and liberate our staff all the while contributing to a more equitable environment.

Watch your language – frame things with positive language / Attitude to mistakes – reframe

Our language is so powerful – even, or should I say especially inside our own heads. As leaders, we must hit delete on negativity. As Dr Wayne Dyer says, ‘We don’t die from a snake bite, we die from the venom that continues to pour inside’. This is true of the cumulative effect of criticism framed in a negative way on our teams. We can make a conscious effort to focus more on what we do want, as opposed to what we do not want.

By framing our plans in this way or reframing a mistake as a step along the way – something we have learnt from …we can create a culture of positivity and productivity with a staff that love working together and ensure we are leaders that show the way by example, true to our values attracting what we expect, reflecting what we desire, becoming what we respect and mirroring what we admire’

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