VENTEUR spoke with Jim Frawley, Founder and Principal of Bellwether, about team leadership. Bellwether is a company dedicated to helping organizations and people build resiliency, adapt to change, and thrive in rapidly shifting contexts. He is the host of the Bellwether Hub podcast and best-selling author of Adapting in Motion: Finding Your Place in the New Economy, a practical guide to responding to multiple levels of macro change. 

Jim Frawley / Photo courtesy of Jim Frawley

How can leaders cultivate a culture of inclusive leadership throughout their organizations, and why does such inclusivity matter?

We are social individuals. Research shows social rejection or non-inclusivity is treated mentally in the same way as physical pain. For us to be ourselves and for our individuals to truly bring the value we pay them, we need to have people bring their best.

Cultivating a culture of inclusive leadership is an exercise in eliminating judgment, increasing logic and objectivity, and lowering the negative, defensive way many of us approach our work. After all, work is part of our identity.

From a tactical standpoint, we do this by asking impactful questions. These are requests for information where you genuinely do not know the answer, soliciting information with zero judgment and in a pure learning mindset. 

There are logical and emotional responses in the workplace. As leaders, we have to encourage objectivity, providing a platform where individuals can operate in a genuinely open fashion. 

How important is recognizing employee achievements to developing a positive work culture, and why? 

It's essential, but only if it's done correctly and authentically. It's also important to note that everyone likes recognition in different ways. Each person has a unique way of feeling valued, and recognizing achievements is the primary way to communicate that value. 

What should celebrating employees' milestones and achievements look like, and why?

For many leaders I've worked with, having them change their thoughts from "how am I recognizing employees" to "how can I tell them I value them/they are providing value" allows them to approach it in another way.

This helps us change what we are celebrating. We don't need to celebrate "going above and beyond,”  but rather perhaps the way they are thinking and the ideas they are coming up with. Not just "she worked all weekend," but we need to foster a world of new ideas … "what I've learned,” and “what I'm bringing to the office.”

Milestones and achievements are subjective, and celebrating them is meant to articulate value. That filter of showing how you value them is what drives the best recognition and celebration.

According to The American Institute of Stress, 83% of American workers suffer from work-related stress. So what are three out-of-the-box ways leaders can help reduce their employees' work-related stress and add to work culture, and why these three?

It's important to note that work-related stress is often greater than work. We tend to blame our work because it's the easiest to blame for the compounding stress beyond the office, home, community, pandemics, raising teenagers…whatever. That said, here are three primary ways I like to work with executives on alleviating their employee stress: 

1. Re-Think Your Philosophy on Your Employees

What are you hiring them for? 

To sit in a cube for 45 hours a week, or to accomplish a project/deliver value? 

This is easier to do in smaller organizations. 

Still, we get energy and stress relief from creating our work and having an "entrepreneurial mindset" within the confines of an organization. This requires us to allow for a certain level of autonomy and to clearly and directly communicate our expectations of them from the top. 

2. Invest in Development

Research shows that when we learn, we tap into our parasympathetic nervous system, which is the only way to combat stress (it's the anti-stress to stress). That said, this development needs to focus on individual capability, and the learning must be bespoke to the person. Nobody wants to learn something they are forced to learn. Rather than being "told" how to act and what to learn, our people must build their capacity for ongoing development. 

3. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) With Authentic Charters

Sometimes, your people need some support. ERGs create a place for similarly-minded individuals to connect and share challenges and solutions. 

66% of American workers suffer from sleep deprivation caused by work-related stress. How can leaders determine whether these issues are due to toxicities stemming from leadership or compartmentalized toxicities that happen without the leaders' knowledge, and how can they be addressed?

We can only know what's causing another person's stress by having them tell us. Outside, we are making assumptions, impacting our ability to address and resolve challenges intentionally. 

We attribute much stress to the "toxicity" of the workplace. However, workplace "toxicity" is often subjective due to the individual's interpretation. But we have increasing deadlines, the inability to have conversations, and challenges beyond (home, economy, community) that compound. 

Creating a platform and environment for effective communication, embracing the philosophy of psychological safety, allows us to release the valve of pressure so individuals can articulate their issues and take the steps necessary to address them. 

Not all environments need creators. However, what value can a creator work culture add to an organization, what might that culture look like, and how does one develop it from the ground up?

Creation takes many forms, from product straight through to operations and processes. Culture is a perfect example of a co-creative process that requires ownership at all ends. We create solutions for ourselves. 

The creator's work culture drives ownership and pushes us with an entrepreneurial mindset. It's the merging of personal capability and corporate goals, but we need to define acceptable creation. Too often, we think of it with a narrow focus. 

Startups often require employees to do more for less and do so with smiles. How can leaders spot when employees are overworked, positively intervene, and what corrective actions should be taken, and why?

First, it needs to start with expectations. Important to note for startups and other business owners: we can't expect our people to work as hard as we do. There is a productivity scale and we can't cross the line; we often burn people out due to misaligned and ill-conceived expectations. 

That said, burnout and corrective action need to be driven by the employee. Your employees shouldn't be waiting for you to intervene for them to take their foot off the gas. But, again, this is a cultural and communication challenge in which open lines of communication are vital. 

Adopting simple questions in meetings is an excellent way to help with this. For everyone to share what they learned that week; the biggest challenge in the coming week; challenges they see on the horizon - it drives a culture of accountability and thought and offered opportunities to help before things go too far. 

Does offering benefits such as four-day work weeks, unlimited PTO, health insurance, and the ability to work from home make up for toxic workplace cultures?

No. Nothing will. Those are secondary steps that are beneficial to a culture of accountability. Actual toxicity (an utterly overused term, by the way) is about respect and the lack thereof toward our people. No four-day work will make up for that. 

What do next-generation staff want from their workplace?

Respect, learning, and co-creating solutions. 

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