Leaders Enhance Dignity
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

Leaders need to enhance the dignity of their teams, stakeholders, and customers. Over the past 20 years, we have learned a lot about the difficulties affecting individuals. Social scientists and psychologists have helped us understand the unrest that individuals feel when their dignity is violated. These are wounds that are often deep and hidden. It’s a leader’s responsibility to be aware of these wounds and to attempt to offer a path to healing.

The human psyche has developed over thousands of years. We are programmed to react to threats in our environment. Early in our development we needed such instincts to keep us alive and safe. A predator or hostile enemy triggered subconscious responses of fight or flight. In microseconds, our brains were telling us to quickly decide how to act. Today we have this ingrained response to threats. The difference is that we may no longer have just physical threats – they may be psychological. And yet, our responses of fight or flight are still hard-wired within us. We choose these actions even if we are not aware of them. This is why leaders must work hard to create environments that enhance individual dignity. Team members will disengage from critical relationships with leaders, other team members, stakeholders, and our customers if they feel threats to their dignity.

One of the reasons that physical meetings are so important is that a leader can often see when others are demonstrating behaviors that indicate that others are withdrawing or fighting a decision or approach. This can be much more difficult in an electronic exchange such as email or texting. Even a phone call, which is better, still misses body language. And, over 90% of communication is nonverbal. We can often see challenges much faster than we can hear or read them in a written exchange. There really is no substitute to seeing how someone responds to our words and actions.

Let me give you an example. I almost always brief new initiatives in person with my team. I am looking for both verbal and nonverbal cues to see how it is being received. It also allows me to modify the effort or even halt its advances until it is completely thought through. Many times, I will read the room even before I offer my suggestions to see if the environment is conducive to my comments. If not, I will wait for a better time. I want to avoid unnecessary fight or flight responses from my team. At MACNY, we are continually adding new and expanded offerings. I do expect genuine questioning and meaningful feedback. Being aware of the need to honor the skills and the dignity of my team makes our advances both easier and more productive.

Are you aware of the psychological effects of your words and actions as a leader? Do you seek genuine feedback and try to avoid the natural responses of fight or flight? Do you notice when you want to withdraw from a relationship (flight) or become hostile (fight) toward others’ actions? How can you help others be aware of their responses to what may be received as an assault on their dignity triggering feelings of fight or flight? As leaders, we are more effective when we take into account the need to bolster other’s dignity. When we do so, we enhance our ability to be resilient and adapt to the fast-moving world around us.