Growing up in my grandparents’ home, there were times when my grandmother hid food from me, which to this day I could never understand why…There were times she took from the small stash of clothes I had, without telling me, and gave it to her other grandchildren. There were times she made it very clear that I was not wanted. In those early years of my life, the overwhelming message was that I was not valued, I was an unwanted burden and a shameful reminder of my mother’s sins to have a child out of wedlock.
Not being able to make sense of how I was treated, the underlying meaning I made of it all was that I was somehow defective, not valued and not valuable. But I enjoyed learning, and school became my escape. As I pursued learning, the idea of being self-sufficient became my internal motivation. I thought I can somehow protect myself by not relying on anyone and my success at being independent would make me valuable.
My goal birthed some resourceful qualities in me, for which I am grateful. My secondary school principal’s words, to always give my best, connected with my desire to succeed and be valuable. I became focused on being exceptional in my performance. My drive, commitment, reliability, and dedication to high quality output set me apart from team members and put me on the fast track to promotion. With promotion came direct reports…
As an inexperienced manager, I struggled to connect with my direct reports. I heaped the same expectations of drive and excellence on them as I held for myself, without understanding their strengths, their weaknesses, their motivators and their stressors. I cared about them, and I wanted them to succeed, but I was ill-equipped to lead them well. Their places of development needs or weaknesses were met with my frustration, and even anger, rather than curiosity, support, and coaching.
Whenever I reflect on that early experience in my career, the thing that breaks my heart most is that I do not think my team members felt like I really valued them. They did not need to perform to any standard to be valuable; they were innately valuable, by the simple fact that they are human beings. I knew what it felt like to not be valued; but my misdirected efforts to find my own sense of value and worth caused me to act in ways that made others feel unappreciated and less valued. That is one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn so far in my life.
If I could rewind 20 plus years, I would go to that version of myself and deliberately and frequently communicate to each of my team members that he or she is valuable. I may not have changed the high standards I held for the team, but, as I diligently pursued those standards, I would have been as diligent about ensuring that each member felt valued, cared for and supported so they could shine in their strengths and grow in the areas they needed to.
I cannot go back, but I have learnt from that experience. I am also thankful that I had the opportunity to reach out to them and offer my humble amends for not being a better leader. They deserved to be led well because "everyone deserves to be led well," - John C. Maxwell
“Growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow is going to get better.” – John C. Maxwell
I am grateful for the growth I have had since. A lot of that growth required me to do the personal work around releasing the unhealthy belief that I was not valuable and embracing the truth that even if others do not value me, I am still innately valuable.
My successes in life are no longer about making myself feel valuable. Getting to the point in life where I accepted myself as inherently valuable has turned my focus on others. John C. Maxwell says, “Growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow is going to get better.” That growth in me uncovered my passion to elevate others, to ensure others know they are valued and are valuable. That passion fuels my purpose to help leaders learn to lead others well.
Leading with integrity for me means that the way I treat others is in alignment with my belief that we are all valuable. This does not mean that there won’t be performance issues that come up that must be addressed. But it does mean that the way those issues are addressed must never result in eroding another person’s sense of worth. Accepting myself as valuable does not mean that I am more valuable than others but that I am equally valuable as others.
“Valued people become valuable teams.” – Shivana Khoza
There are many leaders today who are struggling to lead their teams well. This is evident in the finding that many people leave their jobs because of the relationship with their boss. Various polls by Gallop over the years continue to show a link between high employee turnover and poor management. One of the key ways we communicate value to our team members is treating them with respect. A survey by Pew Research Center found that 57% of people who left their jobs during the Great Resignation in 2021 quit because they felt disrespected at work. The way people are managed has a direct impact on their engagement in the workplace. It's up to leaders to lead well so that they facilitate the kind of workplace conducive to supporting employee engagement.
The aim of good leadership is not to prevent our team members from leaving a job. As leaders, there is no greater responsibility or honor than that of helping team members live into their potential. To live up to this responsibility, we must serve our teams from a place of embracing and elevating their value. We best instill value in our teams by building a workplace that supports employees' wellbeing through cohesive teams free of politics and dysfunction.
The good news though is that people can learn the skills to be better leaders and build more cohesive, productive teams. Reach out and take the step today to learn how you can stand out as a leader your team wants to follow. As employees grow and transition to new roles, in or outside the organization, they can count you as one of the transformational leaders in their lives, a leader who made them feel valued and valuable.
 TheGreat Resignation: Why workers say they quit jobs in 2021 | Pew Research Center
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