Whatever the goals of your organization, or yourself as an individual, one goal seems to have overshadowed the rest: productivity. When we reward and idolize productivity, the norm for work becomes busyness, stress, overwhelm, suffering, burnout, performing our value for others, and sacrificing our authentic selves.
One of the most transformative foundations of our work at Leverage to Lead is that our ultimate goal in creating and sustaining an equitable and inclusive workplace is not your organization’s bottom line. It’s not even your own achievement. Let’s be clear: we’re not dismissing the work–the teaching, serving, advocacy, and creativity you’ve dedicated yourself to absolutely hold importance. But there’s something we need to place above it all.
Because we can’t do any of the work well without bringing our full selves to work and holding space for everyone’s full humanity. And that calls for building and deepening relationships through the work, as part of the work, and as the reason for the work.
Maybe you’ve already experienced what it feels like when being in relationship with one another is an organization’s lowest priority:
- Appearing busy becomes more important than really doing the work
- We don’t look for meaning in our work, but do it in order to gain external validation
- Disagreement or conflict is not tolerated
- People avoid and ignore conflict, disagreement, and other forms of discomfort
- People don’t hold themselves accountable
- People act on their assumptions and biases instead of being open to learning
- People value control over curiosity
- People stay as busy as possible, and as a result, avoid self-reflection
The First Relationship is with Ourselves
We can’t build relationships, especially ones across lines of difference, if we aren’t in relationship with ourselves first. This begins with seeing yourself as a changing and developing being, rather than a static one. We are all mysteries to ourselves sometimes. If you can view yourself with openness and curiosity, you can examine, question, and learn from yourself.
How do you do this? Start by approaching yourself with some questions: What am I feeling? Where is that feeling coming from? What stories am I telling myself about the situation or another person? What do I need that I’m not getting?
And then, dig down into more challenging ones:
Am I in line with my values? Am I actually holding myself accountable, being transparent, welcoming disagreement, and valuing other people’s differences?
What is motivating my behavior? For an educator we work with, this means interrogating their very careful plan that accounts for every single minute of a presentation. Upon reflection, they realized they were acting out of fear, a need for control, and a lack of trust in themselves to be flexible in the moment.
What are my unstated expectations? For two colleagues who find it challenging to work together, one expects that a safe work environment means never feeling tension or discomfort. Unstated expectations also show up as terms that are never mutually defined. Colleagues use the same terms, like “prepared” or “present” but do so with their own, often conflicting, definitions.
Do I have compassion for myself? Am I able to see my common humanity with kindness rather than harshly judging my performance? Do I allow myself to take the time and space I need to understand how I am feeling and what I need? “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” – Dr. Kristin Neff
What Prioritizing Relationships Looks Like
At Leverage to Lead, we encounter this choice every day we work together: are we going to prioritize our relationships or are we going to prioritize “productivity”?
We succeed and we fail. We go through long and uncomfortable processes sometimes before arriving at the right priority. Or we act out of alignment with that value, and we do the work of repair and growth.
More than anything, we live with the knowledge that we’ll never be done evolving and deepening our relationships. So, rather than striving to get the relationship “right” once and for all, we prioritize navigating it well.
Here’s a glimpse into how we’ve been trying to live our work lately.
Getting clear on the process. MJ and Nick are building a new program. Nick thrives with a lot of structure (work plans, agendas, deadlines). MJ doesn’t share this need. In the past, this difference has meant one person doesn’t feel supported while the other feels stifled. This time, before they started creating, they talked about how they were going to do the work. They named their needs and expectations. They shared what makes them feel valued and accomplished, along with each person’s definition of success. Throughout the project, they’re still checking in and creating space for each other to refine their work process.
Setting Boundaries. The work we do is intensive and we are committed to showing up with integrity for our clients. This means we create the space we need to do the work well–not overscheduling meetings, blocking out time to reflect, actively resisting the pervasive culture of urgency, and not taking on clients who aren’t yet ready to fully engage in our process. Boundaries are NOT ways of separating ourselves from each other. Quite the opposite: boundaries help us engage by sharing what we need and ensuring that we don’t burn out.
Challenging our behaviors and motivations. For MJ, that means challenging her belief that “it’s not worth it to bring up my feelings, that my feelings don’t matter.” This belief can cause her to act out of alignment with her values, specifically when she takes on full responsibility for solving for the tension. She has to remind herself that “co-creating in relationship means we all hold responsibility to navigate discomfort or challenges together.” Holding it all herself comes from a place of control and it communicates mistrust–the antithesis of her core values. And then she does the hard work of naming how she’s feeling and what she needs.
Owning our needs. Recently, Jennifer opened her calendar to discover an afternoon free of meetings. She immediately envisioned several rejuvenating activities for herself. And then, Kim added a meeting. Here’s how Jennifer describes her process of prioritizing the relationship:
“I know the conflict is between my own need for spaciousness to do this work well, and how much time I believe we “should” be giving to clients. I also know we need to constantly think about what is enough vs. staying busy.
So, I worked through the stories that Kim is trying to overload my schedule, that being a real CEO means being overwhelmed, that I’m not allowed to block off time for myself because I need to feel like I’m working harder than the rest of the team, and that Kim should just know what I need already.
If I had been focused on productivity, urgency, and doing anything for the client, I would have ignored or dismissed my need for spaciousness. I might have shown up badly with Kim or insisted on some kind of organization-wide policy change to keep this from happening again.
But those are just ways for me to not own my own needs. Those are ways for me to blame Kim when all she’s doing is showing up in the middle of my own relationship with myself. Or for me to ignore the fact that when I do block off time for myself, I consistently schedule over that free time and refuse to honor my own boundary. It’s easier to grab unexpected free time as a gift than to admit that I need it.”
Asking why. As a former educator, Nick knows what it’s like to say yes to extra work for the performative value of getting recognized (though never with career advancement or money). So when a new project at Leverage to Lead needed undertaking, Nick said yes immediately. Upon reflection, however, this is what he’s discovering:
“I didn’t realize my decision around taking on this new work actually came from my past experience as an educator, of saying yes to stuff for recognition or the hope of a promotion.
Now, I want to explore what that all means. I’m giving myself space to process my actions and choose how to go forward. Does this project align with my own goals, even those in the future that aren’t tied to Leverage to Lead? Is leading this project the best way to contribute to my goals for the future? Is it leaning into my strengths or helping me develop new ones? I’m asking whether this is something the organization needs or something I need.
Being in relationship with Jennifer and MJ is allowing me to ask those questions and make a decision in true collaboration.”
As you can see, we are deep in the work of prioritizing our relationships–doing it slowly, together, with all our human needs, feelings, and shortcomings.
If you would like to talk more about how Leverage to Lead can help transform and deepen relationships within your organization and beyond, contact any member of our team.