Workplace Leaders Must “Be the Change”

seedling-growthFollowing the most unprecedented, unpredictable Presidential election in U.S. history, the online community has been saturated with posts, tweets, and articles ranging from how people need to handle the emotional aftermath of division and grief to acceptance and “moving on.” There is no doubt that political analysts, news organizations, and universities will be using this election as a case study for a multitude of topics in the years to come: Communication, political strategy, public relations, cross-cultural relations, and change, to name a few. In the workplace, however, political commentary and division can show up in side comments and retorts among co-workers. As a leader, be prepared to handle opposing viewpoints of team members when they are manifested as non-productive behavior.

How will you bring together co-workers who are still divided? How will you encourage moving forward when some people’s minds are still stuck on past events? Let the words of Gandhi guide and inspire you: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

In order to be the change, you must be empowered and responsible for your own actions. Serve as a positive role model for your team. The messages and the energy that you convey will set an example. The same is true for your team members. Arguing, shouting, screaming, demanding, bullying, and blaming others with negative rhetoric will accomplish nothing. Conversely, using a civil tone, listening, collaborating, accepting responsibility, and treating others with dignity and respect will lead to more positive results. Which outcome is preferred? Choose open conversation over open hostility. Choose to rise above rather than fall victim to. Choose to stop the negative rhetoric and instead search for positive outcomes. Choose to find common ground and common purpose.

Lead by example. When you hear opposing viewpoints of a co-worker, don’t belittle that person. Listen. Use positive language that keeps the conversation open rather than shutting it down. Invite greater understanding through listening and using neutral language.

Whether you are engaged in a one-on-one conversation or a group discussion, here are some examples of comments or questions that lead to open dialogue:

Beginning a conversation, use language like this: “Help me to understand your viewpoint.” “Thank you for sharing your perspective.” “I appreciate hearing your point of view.” “I now have a better understanding of why you feel this way.”

As you share your perspective, consider using comments like these: “I would like to share my perspective with you as well. All I ask is that you listen to me.” “There may be times when our viewpoints are opposite. That’s okay. The important thing is that we share, without any judgment or preconceived notions. Let’s really listen to each other.”

As you go deeper into the conversation, to try to find a comfortable half-way meeting point, you may use language like this: “Now that we have shared our thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, let’s look at common threads that we share.” “What would it take for us to come together so we each felt like we got something we wanted?” “How can we ‘agree to disagree’ and still be productive in our work?” “How can we move ahead together?”

You may not be able to resolve every issue. What you will be able to do is begin an open dialogue.

The workplace would be different if one common goal was shared: Open communication. How would your workplace change if employees at all levels of the company shared their voices in an open forum? How are you creating a safe environment for open, honest conversation? What opportunities are you providing to your team to engage in sharing their feelings in a respectful, nonjudgmental way?

“Being the change” is not easy. It’s difficult. Shifting from potentially destructive behavior to productive behavior is a giant leap. It begins with one step. Initiate a positive conversation that matters. You are worth it. Your team is worth it. Your workplace is worth it.

The Grace and Integrity of Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill,

Gwen Ifill,

America lost a media trailblazer this week with the passing of Gwen Ifill, co-anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She was a woman of unparalleled integrity, unstoppable spirit and character. There will never be another.

This past summer when the Republican National Convention visited Cleveland, where I live, my husband and I decided to drive downtown and enjoy the excitement of a major political convention in our city. We walked along the trendy East Fourth Street area, which served as home to all of the national media posts. Well-known reporters, news anchors, and commentators were everywhere, mixing and mingling with visitors and conducting interviews in the street. My eye scanned the crowd, and there she was – Gwen Ifill – eating a light lunch at a sidewalk cafe. She smiled that stunning smile and was gracious as people approached her.

When you read about her journey as an award-winning journalist, and hear her personal story of humble beginnings, you are reminded that any person who has a dream can pursue and achieve it.

“Journalists are accused of being lapdogs when they don’t ask the hard questions, but then accused of being rude when they do. Good thing we have tough hides.” Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill knew how to ask the tough questions, and she never backed down. Her professionalism and level of intelligence were at their finest in her role as a political debate moderator. The questions she asked were thought provoking, and she brought a certain level of authority, responsibility, and respect to the role.

She encountered discrimination, racism and bigotry in her life, yet she remained undaunted and focused on her dream, her future. The integrity of her work demonstrated that she was not only capable; she was the best in the business. She led by example, was a trusted friend and advisor to many, and served as a mentor to many young women coming up through the ranks. That example continues to provide hope to young women, especially women of color.

I can only imagine the conversation she is enjoying now – on that other plane – with longtime friend and fellow journalist Tim Russert, who also left this earth too early. Oh, what a great reunion.

Reflecting on all that Gwen Ifill accomplished in her lifetime encourages me to be a better person. May we all as professionals look to her example for inspiration as we strive to succeed in our careers and in life.

Do Some American Women Have a “Girl Crush” on Hillary Clinton?

hillarybuttonWithin the national media coverage of the 2016 Presidential election, there is one perspective that the media hasn’t really touched upon: Why some women dislike Hillary Clinton. I have a theory: It’s called a “girl crush.”

When I accepted the position as president of a women’s organization back in the late 1980s, my husband cautioned me that there might be some women who wanted to see me fail. My reaction? First, I rolled my eyes in disbelief, then I said, “Oh, come on. You’re a man. What do you know about women? Women help and support each other.” Yes, I was young and naïve back then. I learned the hard way, through my own experience, exactly what my husband warned me about. He was absolutely right. There were women within my “sisterhood” of colleagues who did not want me to succeed*.

“How could that be?” I asked myself. “It’s (almost) 1990! Women have progressed so much. We’ve come so far.” I really believed that back then. What I know now more than ever is that women can be – and often are – their own worst enemies when it comes to helping each other move forward.

Case in point: Hillary Clinton. As a woman, I get genuinely excited about the prospect and possibility of the first female president of the United States. What a tremendous boost for women in our country, to know that we – as women – can hold the most prestigious office in America.

Then I think about the lyrics of the Grammy Award nominated song, Girl Crush by Little Big Town, and I wonder if some American women have a girl crush on Hillary Clinton.

The song is sung in a sarcastic, spiteful way and tells the story of a jilted woman who jealously wants to be just like the woman who is now with her ex. “I want what she has…Yeah, ‘cause maybe then you’d want me just as much…” In reality, the woman despises the other woman and everything about her.  She doesn’t really want to be like her; she just wants what she has.

Some American women may be viewing Hillary Clinton from that “girl crush” perspective. “If I can’t have what she has, I’m not going to vote for her!” How pathetic.

In her book, Daring My Passages, author Gail Sheehy shares a story from earlier years when magazine editor Tina Brown shared her dislike of Hillary Clinton. When Sheehy pushed for clarification, Brown finally admitted that Clinton was too “perfect.”

Negative comments that female colleagues, family members, friends, and women featured in media interviews have said about Hillary Clinton have surprised me. “She’s already been in The White House; we don’t need anymore of her.” Or “I don’t trust her.” Or “I hate her!” One longtime female friend of mine said, “I’m not voting for her just because she’s a woman.” To that friend and to American women who share those thoughts, I simply say, “Why not? Why wouldn’t you? How many years have we, as women, said to each other, ‘If you want to see change, real change, put a woman in charge!’?” How many women could deny that truth?

Of 196 countries around the world, only 28 (14%) have female leaders.

I do believe that some American women don’t see the value of putting a woman in The White House as president. But…are they the same women who don’t care if women get equal pay as men? Who don’t care if they have to work longer hours and get fewer perks than their male counterparts? Who don’t care if women are sexually violated by men? Who don’t care if women are objectified in the media? I do see the value, and I wish more women cared about each other.

Earlier this year, I reviewed Hillary Clinton’s biography and was impressed with the positive work that she has consistently accomplished throughout her life for women, girls, and families, equal rights and human rights, and healthcare. She is, hands down, the best qualified person to serve as Commander in Chief.

Recent studies show that women simultaneously use the right and left hemispheres of their brain, giving them a greater capacity to process data more quickly than men, who predominantly use the brain’s left hemisphere. By nature, women are more collaborative, nurturing, and inclusive in their actions. Women do, in fact, make better politicians. They can also multi-task better than anyone else (scan the headlines, apply lipstick, and finish writing a report all at the same time).

If there are any doubts in your mind, ponder one important question: In what ways would the world be different if women were in charge? You may be see things in an entirely different light.

(*I didn’t fail, by the way; I actually saved the women’s organization from going under, with the help of an exceptionally gifted female staff leader and a small group of like-minded women who stayed with me through some very turbulent times).

Photo: CZust