How to Create a Workplace Where Everyone Belongs
To hear about how to create a purposeful culture and the struggles diverse leaders tend to face in the workplace, we caught up with Stephanie Laplante - an executive coach and trusted adviser to high-performance leaders who leverage coaching to unlock their untapped potential and help them achieve their ambitions. Her company The Leadership Space provides individual, group, and team coaching to unlock potential and drive business performance.
What are the main challenges leaders have been faced with in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? How have you assisted them with these?
Different leaders faced different challenges. The one challenge that I heard about the most is how to engage teams in the virtual environment. Leaders couldn’t rely on seeing people in the hall or at the “water cooler,” to have a quick conversation.
Leaders needed to shift. Leaders needed to see people as people. They no longer saw someone as “a direct report” or “my boss.” They saw people at work, juggling homeschooling, worried about elderly parents, and trying to figure out what tomorrow would bring.
The role I played with my clients was to create the space for them to tune into how COVID was impacting them. Then to develop strategies to take care of themselves, so they could be fully present and listen to what was going on for people in their teams. To listen to what was important. To listen to what people needed. To offer support so people could navigate the uncertainty, take care of their family, and still be engaged and productive at work.
Many leaders grew from the experience, becoming more compassionate, understanding, and flexible with others.
You work with diverse leaders – what are the key areas they seem to struggle with?
I hear it time and time again. Diverse leaders struggle with being their authentic selves. It may look different depending on the ethnicity, but it all boils down to trying to fit in. It makes me sad that diverse leaders need to invest energy to fit in—whether it be to try to speak better English or hold back in a meeting because they don’t want to be seen as aggressive. Their energy would be better spent collaborating with a team to come up with innovative solutions to help others. If we can help leaders from different racial and ethnic backgrounds leave their “armour” at the door and bring their true selves to work, companies can do amazing things.
What are your key tips for achieving great culture within an organisation?
Culture is the oxygen people breathe in a company. If it is good, people thrive and achieve more than they ever imagined. It fuels the communication, collaboration, and creative thinking of teams in companies.
I believe culture is created in the moments that matter. It’s those micro-actions that are seemingly insignificant but shape how people experience the culture at a company. Think about how many actions leaders take every day. It’s as innocuous as a leader accepting to have a “meeting before the meeting.” It’s as powerful as a leader asking everyone to voice their opinion in a controversial conversation. It’s as important as celebrating someone who tried a new approach and failed but learned a lot of lessons in the process.
Most of these things people won’t see first-hand; they will hear the stories though. They will hear the stories about how the boss didn’t take the meeting and asked the person to raise their concerns so everyone could hear the information at once. They will hear the stories about how the leader asked everyone to chime into the conversation and made a decision based on the input of the most junior person in the room. They will hear the stories about the person who failed fast (or slow) and got an award at a company dinner.
Diverse leaders struggle with being their authentic selves.
How do you help leaders to achieve this?
I work with clients to be thoughtful about what they want to create in their culture to drive performance. What values are important to instil in the company? What behaviours do they want to infuse in the culture? What will they do differently to role model the behaviours that will create the culture they want? What will they unlearn or let go of to show others what they expect in the company?
Most of what we do is shaped by beliefs and assumptions we learned at some point in our lives and careers. Through coaching conversations, leaders are able to explore and understand their deeply held beliefs and assumptions that inform how they lead. They challenge whether or not these beliefs and assumptions are still serving them and helping them create the culture they want to create or if they are stopping them.
Then, as clients realise some of their deeply held beliefs are holding them back, we explore new beliefs and assumptions that feel right to them. As clients see new ways to lead, they expand the ways they can show up as a leader to create the culture that drives performance.
With diversity & inclusion becoming a more and more important priority for organisations, what are the things that all CEOs need to do to create a place where everyone belongs?
That is the million-dollar question. It starts with a mindset; a mindset that not everyone has to be just like me to be successful. A mindset that there are different paths, different definitions of success, and different experiences that are valuable and matter. A mindset that I may not know all the answers and if I ask people who are different from me, I may see something I didn’t see before; something I didn’t know. And that is brilliant!
Once they have the mindset to be open to difference, then, CEOs can see how multifaceted and talented people are without thinking about their identity, background, or experiences. It’s understanding, respecting and tapping into these differences – this is where the magic starts to happen.
With all of the challenges CEOs face today, what is your one best piece of advice to lead in today’s world?
There are so many things that create noise today. News. Social media. Employees. Politics. Supply. The list goes on and on. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and lose sight of the one thing that will propel the company’s performance. The people. Listening to people can open doors to opportunities you never knew you had. Listening to people can keep you relevant in the marketplace. Listening to people can teach you how to be a better leader, to inspire, motivate, engage your organisation. It sounds so simple, yet it’s so hard to do.