Leaders, What Will You Do to Make a Difference?

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”  Robert Louis Stevenson

“A man scatters seed on the ground . . . the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Mark 4:26-27

Each weekday, NBC’s nightly news includes a final “Inspiring America” story. These stories showcase people who make a difference in the lives of others. They remind us that small actions can have a large impact to better our world. Consider, Jadav Payeng, “The Forest Man of India.” Saddened by how erosion and the changing ecosystem had destroyed the river island he loved, he began to plant one tree sapling each day on this decimated Island. Now, after almost 40 years, the trees he planted have reclaimed more than 1300 acres and become an Island with lush forests and abundant wildlife. What he started, nature nurtured and enhanced in ways he never imagined. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wX12Tq_o44

While our efforts may not be featured in an NBC headline or YouTube channel, as leaders, we have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our team members and colleagues. Below are a few lessons we can apply from “The Forest Man of India” to create a more connected workplace.

  1. Create a clear vision about how you want to develop and nurture relationships. What would you like to change or do differently as an inclusive leader in 2020?
  2. Be intentional about what you say and how you interact. If your goal is to overcome bias and be more inclusive to develop the next generation of diverse leaders, identify what they need to learn and how you can help support their growth. What opportunities might you offer? What introductions might you make?
  3. Be disciplined with your engagement and feedback. Tell your team what you’re working on to be more inclusive. Leaders often think they know more and interact more with others than they do. How can you stretch yourself to gain understanding of differing perceptions? Could you keep a learning journal to capture when you have rushed to judgement or failed to understand another person’s point of view? How about taking time to sponsor a Business Employee Resource Group (BERG), or read articles and books that provide new ways of seeing how others might experience situations differently than you do?
  4. Encourage others to support your inclusiveness. Could you ask for a diversity or inclusion moment in team meetings? How can you be more courageous in noticing and advocating, when something is said that could be taken the wrong way?  What is said to and about your team members has an impact. Ensure you share positive stories about all employees’ capabilities and not just those you know best. In other words, get to know and connect with everyone on your team.
  5. Be patient; measure and manage your own expectations. It takes time for change and growth to occur in ourselves and others. Take time to evaluate your progress after meetings and difficult interactions. Make note of times you could have said or done something that was more inclusive. Ask your employees what they are experiencing. And, acknowledge your own progress and celebrate success.

Leaders, too, have an opportunity to plant seeds to make a difference. You may not see the fruit of your efforts immediately (and we hope it won’t take 40 years, like it did to grow the forest), yet with each inclusive action, word of encouragement, exchange of direct feedback and conversation, we have an opportunity to make a difference, one person at a time. How will you better the world in 2020?

Image by Itshuman – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40582892