With the chaos of the world and the busy-ness of our daily lives, it can be easy to dismiss the thing most essential to our wellbeing, our progress and our impact. Yet doing so can have disastrous consequences.
A look at the Iceberg Model can confirm why this is so:
In this Model, we see that our behavior is only a part of what makes us up and is driven by everything under the “waterline”, otherwise known as our mindset. Our mindset is made up our thoughts, emotions, values, priorities, beliefs – and needs.
In fact, it is the way in which we interpret our needs as being met (by ourselves or by something or someone outside us) that creates a chain reaction up the iceberg to behavior which works for us – or behavior which undermines us. We get to choose.
To be able to make the best choice here, paying attention to our needs pays as they are at the root of all of our behavior and the results that we are able to achieve.
According to the Center for Nonviolent Communication, here are some needs we all have at one time or another:
to know and be known
to see and be seen
to understand and
celebration of life
(c) 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication
But it’s not just paying attention to what our needs are, it’s also paying attention to how we get them met. If, for example, we know that self-esteem is an area that needs our attention, focusing on something or someone outside of us (a promotion or a boss) to give us that validation will only set us up for limiting results.
But when we can learn to give ourselves that affirmation – with any external kudos being the icing on the cake but not the whole cake– then we are planting some important seeds to liberating results.
It’s super simple, but it’s true:
Identifying our needs + doing our best to meet them ourselves = the best possible results.
Empathy: A Must-Have Trait for Every Leader
Once we have that practice of meeting our own needs down, we become even more inspirational leaders by helping others to identify and meet their own needs.
“Leadership must first and foremost meet the needs of others.” – Robert K. Greenleaf, Founder of the Servant Leadership Movement
Symbolically speaking, we are all, after all, made up of an iceberg:
The Iceberg in Relationships
So, the more we bring every person’s needs to the forefront, the more we can each feel free to be who we are, creating deeper connection among us, which leads to greater productivity and impact.
Prioritizing everyone’s needs might look like this:
- The leader role modeling by putting his/her needs out there, even and especially when they might be exposing a vulnerability
- Setting up Team Agreements (ways we want to be together when working) that all co-create and agree together
- Regular team check-ins to see how we’re doing on these agreements: any changes needed?
- Frequent team building/fun exercises and events to continue strengthening the bonds of the team
Creating a workplace where employees enjoy coming to work each day means happier employees – and higher productivity. More than this, the September 2021 McKinsey Quarterly article ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours tells us that more than a mere wish, the current war for talent is literally driving workplaces to become full of more meaning and care.
When leaders inspire, respect, and listen to their employees, it creates a win-win situation.
John Eades, writing in Inc., sums it up:
“When you show genuine care for your employees’ needs, as opposed to an obsession with the bottom line, you will enjoy better retention rates and productivity as everyone buys into the company culture.”
The benefits of genuinely caring about others has a ripple effect. As Eades writes, encouraging employees to succeed – to be the best they can be by first getting their own needs met– creates greater opportunities for growth. By genuinely caring about employees – and listening to their suggestions or comments on matters that need improvement – a healthy, motivating atmosphere is created.
Employees who feel that they’re valued team members tend to put forth the extra effort in everything they do, and their positivity – and their constructiveness – radiates throughout the workplace.
But Wait…We Can’t Forget to Care for Ourselves
While most leaders would agree that considering the needs of others is crucial, it’s also vital that we do not overlook our own needs. Indeed – our needs must not be swept under the rug, disregarded as unimportant or insignificant.
After all, if our own needs aren’t being met, is it sensible to suggest that we put the needs of others above ourselves? Consider the old phrase, “You can’t give from an empty cup.”
Writing in Forbes, Lindy Brewster stresses the importance that everyone needs to feel safe and secure.
“Faulting leaders for needing the same security as their employees does everyone a disservice.”
It’s easily understood that when employees don’t feel secure or worthy in their workplace, they simply leave for better opportunities. It’s no different with leaders. If their needs aren’t being met – and no one listens to their concerns – they’ll seek out other leadership roles.
When a company faces a critical time – and the pandemic has certainly created a decisive time for all businesses – if employees or leaders don’t have a strong empathetic relationship, where they feel valued, safe, and secure, then it sets the stage for all around failure.
Brewster mentions that getting support is key to success, and if you don’t find help within your own company, seek help outside, from mentors or trusted coaches. They’ve probably been through a similar experience and can share how they persevered.
Lose the embarrassment or sense of shame about asking for help. Reaching out during a difficult time will help us respond more effectively when we’re faced with the next challenging situation. And we all know there will be a next one.
“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands,
one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” Audrey Hepburn
Balancing Boundaries with Caring About Everyone
As with everything in life, there must be balance.
And while empathy is a valued trait in leadership, boundaries have their place as well.
Without boundaries, we are lost. Much like a sign on the road indicates “no parking,” our personal boundaries tell others what is acceptable to us – and what is not.
How do you know when boundaries aren’t firmly in place? Psych Central highlights a few examples:
- Excessive involvement in other’s lives
- Trying to please people
- Attempting to give advice and control others
- Excessive talking
- Working too much or taking on too many commitments
Admittedly, it’s easy to slip into some of these behaviors.
Boundaries can be tough things to keep in place, especially during times of heightened stress (and since 2020, we ALL can relate to that, right?). We want to be there for everyone, we feel guilty for saying no to friends or colleagues, and it’s difficult for many of us to ask for help.
But let’s get real: a lack of boundaries breeds an atmosphere of no respect, of frustration and overwhelm. It’s not fair to ourselves- or to those we lead.
“Compassionate people ask for what they need.
They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, the mean it.
They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
Being a great leader requires a delicate balance of empathy and boundaries. These traits can only be developed when we realize that our own basic needs of feeling valued, secure, and worthy must be recognized as well. Once those needs are fulfilled, it provides rich soil for not only personal growth, but for helping others to achieve their greatness as well.
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Colleen Slaughter, Proud Executive Coach to the UN World Food Program, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
As an Executive Coach for Women in Leadership and Transformational Facilitator, my intention is to help leaders in positions of high influence to understand their worth at a profound level.
Supporting women leaders to truly thrive and step into their greatness, while succeeding in male-dominated industries and spaces is my native genius.
My technique and approach show you how to achieve incredible career success without compromising any part of who you are and what makes you magnificent.