Learning to Learn Socially

“LEADERSHIP is TIME and a simple CUP OF COFFEE” Brian Darlington, Mondi

I took a leap of faith 3 years ago and stepped away from my consulting business to immerse myself into being an employee. I wanted to be part of the machinations, to connect, to engage and grow with the people all working towards one goal. This was an exciting prospect for me as I thought I would be able to apply my knowledge yet expand and grow learning from colleagues and developing new skills. I wanted to apply my vocation of teaching, supporting, coaching and being a pastoral carer.

On a personal level I achieved that, my last role was that of a people support in the business. In doing so I had hoped to also support the business and the leadership to grow and engage with the people in their business. To understand their people and most importantly for them to learn and grow both professionally and personally.

I did learn. I did grow. I did develop and understand so much more. What I saw throughout my time was that there were many challenges within businesses that move them away from developing and growing their people. This saddened me and frustrated me. What I found was cultures that hinders growth and learning. There was often such resistance to change and adopt new ideas or approaches that it was stifling! Yet their discourse was growth, innovation, taking risks and creativity.

What was so frustrating was that I was accustomed to working with a diverse range of professionals who value expertise and are open to different perspectives, well maybe that was my illusion. However, all I met with was resistance to any suggestions, ideas or approaches put forward. How does one fit in if one cannot connect?

There was no learning because there was too much noise! People were so busy ‘yelling’ at each other about what they knew. There was no listening. Too much chatter and not enough moments of silence to sit and reflect, to sit and listen, to sit and understand and more importantly to sit and connect to learn.

Just like the quote at the beginning of this article…’leadership is time’. Leadership is not knowing everything, leadership is not doing everything and leadership is not being the ‘boss’! Leadership is about giving of your time – the greatest gift we can give anyone – to another person to connect, to listen and to learn.

How do I know this? Because as my time supporting people in these roles, I gave people time. How did I know that Tim from IT is actually a fully qualified pastry chef and barrister? What about John who is a highly technical expert in his field is crippled with anxiety because his 4 year old daughter is dying of cancer or Josh who you see sitting in the corner quietly doing his job everyday is actually extremely creative and has his own business on the side building, innovating and selling products. Because I took the time to connect, listen and learn. I learned that it can take up to 3 days to get a perfect croissant, I learned how to make a coffee the ‘right’ way, I learned that Josh is so extremely intelligent but also living with two chronic illnesses that were gifted to him at birth yet he has learned strategies that tackle these illnesses and disabilities that you wouldn’t even know and does not hinder him, I learned that no matter what we do in our daily lives if we’re not connecting to our purpose we’re not living. I learned that although these people were so passionate about what they were doing they gave their all to the business, they cared and they loved what they were doing for that business! Did the leaders know this? Did the leaders see this as valuable information? I did! Because without these types of people the business would not be what it is today. I still have so much connection to the people of these businesses and I know they care a lot as many business leaders do.

What my frustrations were and still are with many businesses is the unwillingness to understand and to learn this. To learn about their people. Let’s be honest no company is unique. Many businesses continually focus on the wrong things in their business, not their people!

Let’s take for example at the moment in Australia the risk and safety focus is all about psychosocial safety or psychological hazards depending on which article you read or jurisdiction you live, https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/model-code-practice-managing-psychosocial-hazards-work. I have had many discussions with people about what this means and the stress that it invokes for business leaders about how to ‘comply’ to the updated regulations. Their focus is the law and how to apply the law to operational practices to mitigate a regulator or court visit! No one asks, ‘how do we support and nurture our people in this business’. This is a fundamental problem. Business owners and business leaders can undertake courses to help them navigate this new law such as ones from AIHS or Sentrient to name a couple. Interestingly, not once in any of these courses is there any discussion on people, connection, engagement, care or learning.

Most importantly, the focus as always is on the individual. The individual is ‘sick’ or ‘unwell’ and we need to be taught how to ‘fix’ this person to ensure they can come back to work. There is no discussion, focus or even evidence-based information on the power of the social environment affecting the individual. The focus is only on how we can make this person better to ensure that they can come back to work!

This is completely counterintuitive to what the premise of what psychological safety is! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_safety. This definition does not talk about the individual being ‘broken’, it talks about the environment being ‘safe’ to speak up, to be welcomed into the team.

The very nature of this ‘hazard’ is that the workplace is the cause of a person’s ill health. Therefore, it is not the person who is ‘sick’, it is the workplace that is ‘sick’! It is a social problem, and we must be focusing on social resilience in the organisation in order to enable people to thrive, engage, grow and connect.

The leaders at Mondi and more specifically Brian Darlington who’s very ethos is represented in his quote, have got it completely right. ‘Leadership is time and a simple cup of coffee’! It is not difficult to engage. What IS difficult though, is educating people to know how to engage, to listen, to reflect and to learn about their people and how to be organisationally and socially resilient.

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