The Power of the Heart: Creating community in your workplace

What’s the best and most effective team you ever served on? Think of a team - at work, school, sports, neighborhood, wherever - where you genuinely contributed to the team’s goals and you were treated with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction.

I ask this question frequently - of executives I’m coaching to improve their company’s culture, of keynote audiences, in leadership workshops, and more.

For many people, their best team experience pops right up in their memory banks. I ask what that team was like for them. They report that serving on that team was fun. Goals were met without drama. Relationships were honest, civil, and real. There was a true bond created among team members and with the team leader. Everyone was fully committed to the team’s present day purpose. Issues were resolved promptly. There was genuine trust and respect exhibited.

Then I ask how their team leader created that environment.

No matter how different the context of people’s “best team” was - work or outside of work - the answers to this question are always the same.

That team leader trusted us. She delegated authority and responsibility when we earned it. He called us on our crappy behavior. She praised us and gave credit frequently. He got his hands dirty, helping with the work when things got hectic. She challenged us. He kept it light with fun stories and “spur of the moment” celebrations. She held us accountable for our commitments. He valued us as “whole persons,” supporting our lives outside of work.

These effective leader behaviors are common across industries, countries, and decades. They’re proven practices for engaging team members’ hearts (spirit), not just their heads (knowledge) and their hands (skills).

These leaders created a strong community where team members engaged in efforts daily to do their individual jobs well AND to help their team succeed.

When I ask audiences whether or not their current boss models these best practices, the reaction is muted. Often, the reaction is crickets (overwhelming silence with periodic chirps). That’s a strong indicator that these behaviors are not common in their current jobs.

The research on employee engagement isn’t pretty. A 2015 Gallup survey indicated that engagement is stagnant in the US with 32 percent of employees being engaged. A 2014 Tiny HR study found that only 21 percent of employees feel strongly valued at work.

Why is it so hard for leaders to embrace these proven practices with their teams today? Leaders know what is required - the list of beneficial behaviors hasn’t changed in years!

I think there are a number of hurdles that inhibit leaders embracing these behaviors. They aren’t asked to manage people’s hearts; leaders are incented to drive results. Leaders may think praising and encouraging people is “soft” and not relevant to the work. There aren’t consistent reliable dashboards available to measure trust, respect, engagement, etc.

So, these best practices are ignored in many workplaces around the globe.

The impact of a “results, results, results” focus are significant. Performance might be OK when the leader is present, monitoring the work. When the leader isn’t there, output and quality often decreases. Proactive problem solving is reduced. If team members don’t feel valued and respected, why should they apply themselves, more than the minimum?

And, the improving economy is seeing American employees voluntarily quit their jobs at a higher rate since the start of the global recession in 2008.

Engage team members’ hearts by valuing their contributions and ideas, thanking them for their efforts and accomplishments, trusting them to act in alignment, and celebrating traction and successes regularly. It can’t hurt - can it?