Letter 1: Falling through Change; Changing through Falls
Recently the business world has been talking about recovery; recovery from the pandemic, from business failures and so forth. Learning from failure is right on trend, it would seem. Hasn't it always been?
In falling we all change. Whether the fall is from a bike, horse or rainbow. We fall. We change. The change might be so tiny that it is virtually invisible. Or. The change might be life changing or ultimately life ending. One thing is for sure: Change is inevitable.
For good or for bad, Change will happen. Think back to childhood. A fall from a much loved bike. A few grazes, no audience and a bit of a dent on the off-side mudguard. No audience means no dent is visible to the ego, the grazes will heal and the dent on the bike is a momento, a permanent reminder not to ride over cattle grids at speed. Done. Over. Yet, as you cast your mind back, you can remember many of these events; falls. And so?
Falls can and do occur. Whether at home or in a place of work, falls happen. Falls land upon our memory as events: in life, work life, home life - all falls. The loss of a job, a valued employee, a major contract. Falls are part of every aspect of our lives. If we insist on moving at all, and certainly with speed, we are sure to fall at some point. A fall. An event. A moment. So?
For most falls, for the most part a simultaneous shoulder shrug , a message on a get well/leaving/retirement card. A bit of a whip round to buy flowers/chocolate/alcohol/gift voucher. Maybe a short speech by someone who knew you. Or thought they did. And? End of!. Fall - complete.
We help the fallen one to their feet, or we walk past and carry on. Their business, not mine. Falls happen. Get over it.
Think back. To the childhood experience. Instead of just a bruised ego and a lesson learnt, what if there is an injury? Embarrassment? Shame?
We can't wrap ourselves or others in cotton wool. Nor should we. We all need space to learn and grow.
Still, we don't let babies try to climb the stairs at first. Baby gates exist for a reason.
What is the mother - or manager's responsibility for providing physical and psychological care for others? For protecting their team members from a fall - from grace, favour, employment? What if the line manager/boss/person in charge was aware of their employee wobbling? Not only of the wobble - but more than that - what if they truly cared? Wanted to protect and prevent the fall? What if?
Do people care?
As a Mum, I see the world as a generally uncaring place. A wilderness from which my home and family is a safe and warm oasis. "They" - the "people" out there... do not care. So I do not care back. And round and round we go. Until somebody steps across an invisible (and carefully guarded) threshold of friendship, I don't care about them, nor they about me.
For to care, or to allow ourselves to be cared for, takes an act of great vulnerability. And, in a world that feels like a wilderness, such vulnerability feels terrifying. Even if Brene Brown tells us that it's important. How brave dare a scarred and scared person be? How much risk of rejection can we take? How would it be to behave as a manager in the way that we do as a parent; caring anyway, looking after them anyway, no matter what?
By caring, showing genuine interest in the people we work with, within our family we in turn receive the same gift of caring. And in caring we bring out a different inner side of people that is otherwise not visible. By caring the act of caring is reciprocated. People begin to think and help each other. A relationship between employee and employer can then start to have a foundation in trust, respect and a feeling of value. The wheels and dynamics begin to grind. Slowly. Glunkely, (I like made up words, which usually have more meaning) and in turn and in time the whole dynamic of the employment situation has the potential to change. And to become their own community. A family - in the best sense of such a thing.
What does that mean? To lead? From the back? From below? Simply: to treat people how we would ideally like to be treated; or how they need to be (no child wants to clean their room, but they need to learn self-sufficiency and will feel better when it is done).
As a parent, as Mum, I lead from the rear. I have and continue to give my children everything. I don't mean through money. Just as pay rises and bonuses have limited long-term effect (beyond a minimum), neither does pocket money or expensive toys. I mean by kindness. Love. Listening. Time. Encouragement. Wisdom. Caring during illness, recovery after injury. Picking them up. Reminding them to believe in themselves. And repeating a million times, how special they are, how unique. And to enable my children to see the person I see in them.
Apply this to the workplace. Could this method of servant/mum leadership work? Would valuing employees and knowing and believing and leading from the rear alter the whole perspective of employment? How would it be if the greatest gift we could give our employees was to really see them, their full potential, their uniqueness: and reflect this back to them so they can see it too?
We are all human. We all fall. What if instead of a card from an employer, instead they gave empathy and a hand back up out of a temporary crisis?
How much would such a short-term investment give back? Imagine the trust for future situations as a result of listening, having empathy and compassion, being able to offer and give practical help. The list goes on. For me it’s common sense as a mum to give unconditionally at all times to all of my children . I lead very much from the back. My children learn both positives and negatives from me. As I in turn learn from my children.
Could the concept of leadership as 'mothership' - a truly caring, never-ending, unconditional and permanent sense of care - be at the root of truly brilliant leadership? The heart of servant leadership?
Ultimately. We are all human. We are all people. Irrespective of our role within a company, we are people first. Companies with mothership/fathership/servant leadership (or Blue4* behavioral traits, as we refer to them at BakerFish) do better. On every measurable scale. More efficient. More profitable. Higher employee engagement. Lower staff turnover. Better reputations.
We teach our children lessons. But they teach us far more. Each step of the way we learn more about raising - being - doing - and living - life as a decent human. And that is worth a few scratched mudguards and falls.
Mother M x
P.S. this blog post is real letters. To share a reader's dilemma and get a response on the blog to help you through it with advice from (the) mothership - please email email@example.com or connect with any of the BakerFish team on LinkedIn.