As my heavy suitcase was being heaved into the rental car, a train companion said to the attendant, “She’s famous where she comes from.” I laughed, and he continued his facade; “Seriously, be good to her. She’s the real deal.” The attendant stopped, looked directly at me for a long time, and said, “Really? Are you famous?”
(I’ll give him a tad of a break as I was traveling outside the USA when this occurred.)
But really, how would you have answered?
The point is, I DO believe we are all uniquely created beings with amazing potential and gifts to share with the world. We ARE all famous in my book because you and I are wonderful (full of wonder!). I know that’s not what the attendant meant, but it was strange how good that 30-second flash-in-the-pan Hollywood supposed fame made me feel. Ridiculous, right? And yet it spoke to me of how deeply we each need to feel valued, useful, and sought out for what we bring to this game of life. We crave to believe we are full of wonder. If we need to be respected and affirmed, how much more do our employees that work in our organizations? How much more do those who frequently feel marginalized and yearn for equity of voice and belonging need to feel “famous?”
Think of the times you have felt misunderstood, ignored, and invisible. Contrast those feelings to when someone has truly “seen” you, and your chest automatically inflates as your spine stands straighter.
When I recently talked with a client about their strengths and how to leverage them in a particular work situation, I came upon my rankings from the StrengthFinders assessment. The executive coach that helped me four years ago understand myself more fully while onboarding with Design Group International declared that my results were unique. The lineup of my strengths in their particular weighted order was replicated only 1 out of 33 million times. What? Am I that weird or simply unique in how life’s gifts fall for me? We as human beings have so much in common, and yet although it sounds way too simple of a platitude - we are each so different from one another. Differences bring opportunities but many potential pitfalls. Pitfalls that can trip up communication at work or insist things must be my way or the highway. Leadership is about creating paths for inclusion for each member to shine fully as their true self. Only then can our organizations thrive on all cylinders of what’s possible with creativity, profit, engagement, and simple loyalty in the long run. We must care for the flourishing of each team member’s potential to be unleashed.
How would the baggage attendant have treated me differently if he was convinced I was “famous?” What could that look like in your organization if you genuinely believed each team member in front of you was “famous?”
Famous Employees Would…
Immediately get a pass if one was perceived as doing something less than. The adoring fan would imagine it was they who were seeing something incorrectly giving the famous one the benefit of the doubt. Grace would be the default expecting that, of course, the famous one was doing something right. They must be misunderstanding, or in this case, believing that there was a legitimate reason I was traveling in yoga pants and using beat-up luggage.
Do you have expectations of the best intentions set as your default response to team members? How can you change your mindset to anticipate the best outcomes from each employee instead of looking between the cracks for faults? Yes, the work needs to be done well, and expecting the best doesn’t mean a leader ignores shoddy work. But starting with what there is to celebrate will always elicit a greater effort from team members. Asking what they need to complete a task well and resourcing them accordingly will fuel your employees’ success. Are you asking questions first before telling? Famous employees will be expected to have the good of each team member and the company at heart as they do their best. You, as a leader, are responsible for providing what they need to excel, and your team members will excel more when treated as if they certainly can and will succeed.
Be treated with utmost care and guarded (my luggage, in my case) from preventable harm. The attendant did offer my traveling companion and me refrigerated bottles of water for on-the-go, the car was started, maps were shared, and appreciation was doled out for having chosen their establishment to rest our heads.
What translates as being cared for by your team members? Have you asked? If not, do so and make plans to enact what you can and honestly communicate what is not feasible currently and why. Chris Tomasso, CEO of First Watch, writes monthly handwritten gratitude notes to convey personalized attention. The General manager lunching out with long-standing employees at Veada Industries creates long-term relationship gains with minimal output of GM time and expense. Flexible hybrid work schedules are helping parents with childcare and elder responsibilities in the stress of COVID readjustments.
I imagine some of us don’t want someone protecting or guarding us against harm. I get that. We, as women especially, have worked long and hard to be seen as capable, independent practitioners. But the reality is that we need each other’s help, and as leaders, it is our responsibility to set, enforce, and ensure welcoming, inclusionary cultures for all. It is no small task despite diversity efforts. Being asked to dance and plan the next dance is way different than being invited to the dance. Because of the currents we have swum in, we are more confident we are doing an excellent job of positive cultural inclusion than most of our organizational members think we are doing. Again, ask your team members- from the lowest on the org chart to the senior members. Take action and get help to set up, monitor, and adapt to offer the healthiest culture possible for all of your employees. That is guarding and protecting.
Bring joy and interest to those they come across in the day.
Do you like your co-workers? If we truly view our employees as famous people, our day will be better for having interacted with them. Certainly, some personalities don’t mesh as easily with mine as with others. But wearing the daily lens of human dignity means I genuinely believe I can be a better person by connecting with you through celebration, caring exchanges, or challenging opportunities. Simple verbal framing phrases make a difference. “I am open to learning from this person’s perspectives,” or “I will be a better leader if I hang in here and celebrate this interaction.”
Inviting appropriate disclosure of what the employee elects to share about their personal life can increase the connection between leader and employee. Keeping track and checking in from time to time with authentic caring about who and what your team members care about outside of work will increase your connection to individual employees. This is a large part of why organizations are encouraged to play together outside of work duties. We are whole people who laugh and cry and care about our particular people. When time is made for this type of connection, employees engage more deeply with assigned expectations, and leaders more easily see each team member as famous.
Elicit natural communication to others of the good and exciting news that we have famous ones working with us!
It’s hard to be quiet when you’ve met someone the world deems famous. I remember when my children got Michael Jordan to sign a baseball card (remember that MJ phase? the Bulls card was held out, too, but he chose to sign only the baseball card). There was this sense of a legend who had just stood before my sons and interacted with them for a brief minute or two. Who is the most famous person you’ve met? Do you remember how it felt? Certainly, none of us keep such exciting news to ourselves. We tell everyone we can find that we just met so and so. And true to form, those who hear are usually slightly envious and impressed. So goes the way of fame.
We get so used to each other’s brilliance that we often forget to be wowed by each other. This is problematic. We are happier and perform on more cylinders with unleashed creativity when our supervisors and team members believe in us wholeheartedly, talk about us positively, laud our giftedness, and offer what we need to succeed.
We take and display photos of famous people we admire for inspiration. Consider the importance of photo mementos and other symbols of what your team means to each other. A bowling team trophy? A retreat photo? An employee celebration bulletin board? Be creative, display your appreciation and respect for your famous staff, and keep communicating all that’s great about each member.
I doubt the baggage attendant considered for very long that I was really “famous.” He treated me well as a guest of their establishment, famous or not, and I appreciated that. That, in fact, was his job. But for those few moments of questioning confusion in his eyes, it sure felt good to be “famous.”
Leaders of organizations have no less of a charge. Your employees should be famous in your eyes. If you view them as such, it will translate to them. It’s your responsibility to create a culture that:
- Guards team members against injuries and exclusion
- Communicates appreciation for each member
- Conveys their importance to the success of your organization
- Empowers them with what tools they need to do their best
- Elicits authentic testimony of why they want to continue working for your organization
- Perhaps even has team members happily wearing the company logo wear on non-work days because they so love working for your organization.
What can you do this week to improve your employees’ fame? What do you need to do to embrace the reality that you, also, are famous?
What I’m Reading and Listening to in order to Remember our Fame:
- Dignity: Its essential role in resolving conflict - Hicks, D., & Tutu, D. (2011)
- Leading with Dignity: How to create a culture that brings out the best in people - Hicks, D. (2019)
- Donna Hicks, author, defines dignity in this brief 3-minute video.
- Everybody Matters: The extraordinary power of caring for your people like family - Chapman, B., & Sisodia, R. (2015)
- Making Work Human: How human-centered companies are changing the future of work and the world - Mosley, E. & Irvine, D. (2021)
- Life of the Beloved: Spiritual living in a secular world - Nouwen, Henri J. M. (1992)
- Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive
- Why Employees Need Both Recognition and Appreciation
- Employees Who Feel Love Perform Better
- Treating Employees Like Customers: Why It's Your Best Performance Strategy
- Why Employee Recognition is Important and Key Benefits
- Listening to Employees: It’s More Important Than You Think
October 20, 2022