Alice Parker, choral director for the famed Robert Shaw Chorale is 91–and going strong. Alice recently shared some wisdom for us all, for our personal as well as professional lives. To paraphrase: “In our rational selves, we argue over differences and fears; in our intuitive selves, we focus on our shared humanity, on our shared experience”. I am sure I mangled this, but this idea of a shared humanity has poignancy everywhere we look these days.
Not only was this sense of collective responsibility for our humanity on display when Europe initially welcomed the migrants from the Syrian and other wars, but also at the Paris Climate Change talks where over 190 nations agreed for the first time in history to take action on reducing global warming. In sharp contrast, there have been polarizing actions taken by terrorists and politicians who have either used violence or fear-mongering to emphasize our differences as a human race. As Alice suggested, we have a choice.
In the workplace, leaders have a choice: either to speak about a shared vision and inspire the workforce to be their best selves, or they can make command decisions and use fear as a motivator on the belief that dividing people through competitive pressures is the best way to get more productivity. For sustained business results, trust, innovation, and collaboration, we have found that the most effective leaders speak to our better angels, engage the energy and spirit of the workforce, and call them to have a collective sense of responsibility for the success of the company.
Beyond articulating this strategic direction, leadership can also:
- Pick 3 Key Shared Goals: That will focus the energy and talent of the workforce in the same direction
- Sponsor Cross-Organizational Teams: That work together across boundaries to address the 3 goals
- Communicate Regularly & Often: Engage the workforce regularly through social media, video-conferences, roundtables, walk-around-management, standup meetings, or leadership lunches. It is best if this happens frequently and is in person or virtually as much as possible
- Acknowledge Team and Company Successes: Rather than individual successes. Realign the performance management system so that it supports collective vs. individual action
- Hold Oneself Accountable: So that everyone can see that accountability starts at the top. Walking this talk delivers a clear message everyone is in this together
These actions are examples of a leader’s larger commitment to Alice Parker’s wise counsel to focus on our shared experience, goals, and hopes rather than our differences or fears. At the end of the day, it will be love and trust, not hate and fear that will distinguish the leaders who will make a lasting difference in their companies, workforces, and the world.