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My family is no stranger to cancer and the accompanying stress. We have heard the words, “You have cancer” more times than I can count on one hand. The most recent diagnosis came shortly after I started working here at Plenty. I was devastated by the news and stressed over the impact that it would have on my new career. I worried about my focus and managing time off. I feared that Plenty’s leadership team would dismiss me as apathetic towards my work. My worries only compounded more stress to the situation. Fortunately, my fears (in regards to work) were quickly reduced. Upon telling the Plenty team, the only questions asked were, “How can we help?” and “What do you need?” The emails of support started flowing in from my Plenty family. While I was not at peace with my dad’s cancer, I quickly found peace and comfort in my leaders and colleagues. Today, I stood by my parents as my dad had his last radiation treatment. I was able to take a break from work to be exactly where I needed to be. Thankfully, I know that as my family’s journey with this terrible disease progresses, I will continually receive support, encouragement, and understanding from my team.
I’m fortunate. I have experienced this empathetic, person-centered leadership multiple times in my career. Conversely, I have also struggled under authoritative leadership that prioritized my output over my personhood. At times, this style of leadership seems an epidemic. Many corporate environments have short-circuited our capacity for teamwork and compassion, instead promoting cynicism and self-interest. This leadership squelched the passion I had for my work. When terrible events occurred, I didn’t feel as though I could bring them to the office. But life is not easily compartmentalized. When I tried to repress the difficult, painful parts of life, I also stifled my creativity, ingenuity, and passion. My work suffered and so did I.
Now, I search out loving leaders wherever I go. I intentionally surround myself with leaders who are strong, caring, and compassionate. I have worked and continue to work with supervisors who care about my and my family’s wellbeing. I have found that true leadership is about empathizing with and empowering your people, encouraging them to achieve the things they did not think possible. Exceptional leadership is not a top-down approach. Rather, it is communal, collaborative, and cooperative.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m an idealist. This style of leadership is a vision for the future — a future in which empathy, understanding, and wellbeing is prioritized over deadlines, quotas, and budgets. This leadership strategy is not the easiest. It is more effortful, more time-consuming, and requires dedication to your team members as people, not just as instruments of production. Still, you need not resign yourself to the current leadership paradigm. This radical style of leading, though effortful, is also the most fruitful. It will set a precedent of compassion and create an environment where your organization’s mission will prosper. Here are two tips for implementing a person-centered leadership strategy in your organization.
Sounds simple, right? But can you truly say that you know your employees past the numbers they bring to the table and the leftovers they leave in the company fridge? Have you created space in your team for people to share what's on their minds? At Plenty, we each write a weekly check-in on Monday mornings that includes our week's whereabouts, priorities, and musings. It allows us to know what is going on in each other's lives outside of the office, which, in turn, fosters a culture of care, trust, and accountability within the office. If you haven't done this yet, it's time to start making room for these conversations to happen.
You are only as much of a leader as your behavior proves you to be. Open up. Share your own life experiences, aspirations, goals, fears, and insecurities with your team. It truly is as straightforward as being the person you want your team members to be.
As Plenty’s CEO, Jeff Shuck, eloquently explained, “There is no system. There are only people.” The ubiquitous leadership model present in today’s corporate world is not the end-all-be-all of leadership strategy. You have the power to change it. Begin being the leader you desire, for your team, today.