How can leaders ensure employees are productive, accountable and still engaged after weeks and weeks of uncertainty and stress? The answer is – they can’t. Even prior to the current pandemic, when workplaces were considered relatively “normal”, leaders couldn’t just magically make those things happen. Even the best leaders can’t MAKE employees productive, they can’t FORCE accountability and they certainly can’t MANDATE engagement. What they can do is help to foster a positive organizational culture and empower teams to be productive, accountable to one another, and engaged with their work and with their colleagues. Collaboration and partnershipping (yes, I just created that word!) is the new frontier for leadership. If we’ve learned nothing else from our current COVID-19 social distancing; reignited focus on systemic racism, violence and injustice; and work-from-home-if-you-can world – it’s that we need one another now more than ever.
If fact, Keith Ferrazi, global thought leader on relationships and New York Times best-selling author of Who’s Got Your Back and Never Eat Alone, may have said it best in a recent Forbes article interview,
“Your job as a leader is not to lead as an individual, but to foster the environment of co-elevation amongst your team. That’s the key, because your team needs to become co-elevators of each other.”
I love this concept of “co-elevation”. There’s no ego involved, there’s no hint of competition, there’s no highlighted hierarchy, and there’s no attitude of “to be the best I’ve got to be better than you”. Ferrazi goes on in the interview to say co-elevation, “…is a key foundational behavior that we can all use to lead, connect, and elevate ourselves and others powerfully and effectively, even without pre-established authority.” So much of leadership, whether you have the official managerial title or not in your organization, is about recognizing the strengths and contributions of others and empowering them to rise higher than they ever thought they could. Leadership is also about recognizing those who have been historically marginalized and de-humanized in our communities and in our workplaces, and intentionally working to elevate and acknowledge those voices.
After 20+ years of working in the conflict resolution field, I’ve seen many dysfunctional behaviors of individual employees lead to highly dysfunctional teams. Yet, the high-performing teams often have something in common – they know how to build each other up when things need to get done and they know how to support one another when times get tough. In essence, they know how to co-elevate.
So, if you’re looking to build your worth, improve your organization’s productivity, support your colleagues and be part of a winning team, here are some tips to bring a co-elevation mindset to your workplace.
Amplify the voices of others in your organization. We’ve all worked in an environment where the loudest voice gets the most attention. And by loud, I don’t mean volume. I mean the person who talks the most, interrupts others, uses their power and privilege to take credit for work or ideas that are not their own, or knows how to manipulate the system to influence decisions and discussions without making space for others to contribute. In fact, research tells us that the voices who get drowned out in workplaces are most often those of women and people of color. So, one way to push back against this tendency in your workplace, is to set a personal goal to amplify and elevate the voices of others. You can do this in many specific and intentional ways.
Support other’s opinions or ideas by referencing or crediting them directly and by name. For example, try saying something like, “I really loved Jasmine’s earlier idea for cutting the 4th quarter budget. Jasmine, can you say more about what you were thinking?”
Properly credit original ideas and correct misattributions in the moment. For example, try saying something like, “I think that idea originally came from Dinesh, maybe he could tell us a bit more about how he envisioned this project developing?” or “Great thoughts Maria, I remember that idea was initially offered by Zoe in our last meeting.”
Make time and space for everyone’s voice to be heard. For example, in meetings or other situations, try saying, “Before we wrap up this discussion, I noticed that we haven’t heard from everyone. Brandon and Leah, what do you both think?” or “Who else should we include in this discussion to make sure we’ve considered all the information we need to make the best decision?”
Share and recommend the work of others. For example, share the work of your colleagues and employees with others, compliment their accomplishments in front of other leaders, bring them to executive meetings with you, mentor them, follow their social media pages, and share their research, their writing and their blogs. Make it a habit to be the leader that promotes and celebrates others.
Show thanks and appreciation. As I tell my kids, saying thank you doesn’t cost you anything, but it can mean everything to someone else. Take the time to personally thank those you work with and those who work for you. Yes, it’s their job and yes, they are getting paid, but the difference between someone who simply does their job vs. the person who goes above and beyond for you, is really what turns average teams into high-performing teams. In fact, employees who feel appreciated and who know their manager has their back are more likely to perform better, have increased productivity and engagement, and report being more satisfied with their job. Showing gratitude also has benefits for you by building better relationships with those around you, improving your overall mental health and helping you deal with conflict when it arises.
Leaders are being tested right now. The challenges to navigate uncertainty, crisis, historical injustices, new workplace norms while keeping employees feeling valued and connected to one another can seem impossible to overcome – but only if you attempt to do it alone. My hope is that we all take the time right now to recognize that strength is a shared value. Only when we learn to lift each other – to intentionally co-elevate – can we truly see how high we can all rise.
Tara B Taylor, MPA