We all have privilege. Some of us, like me as a straight, white, affluent, American man, have more than others. However, for a number of reasons, many of us have a hard time acknowledging and owning our privilege. It has become almost a slur, or even an outright attack to be called “privileged.” In our current social and political climate, there has been a lot of important discussion about white privilege and male privilege specifically.
A simple Google search of the word privilege comes back with this definition: “A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” The synonyms listed are advantage, right, benefit, prerogative, entitlement, birthright, and due.
In a larger culture that aspires to values such as hard work, fairness, opportunity, and meritocracy—and given some of the societal dynamics at play in recent years— it’s understandable that privilege can be seen in such a negative light and why many of us have a hard time owning our privilege. In some cases, we even argue that we don’t or try to hide that we do.
However, the bigger issue is being able to realize that we’re not all starting at the same place and it’s not a level playing field. Some of us simply have advantages that others don’t, and in many cases there’s not much we can do about them—they’re literally based on where we were born and what we look like. But it’s important to be able to see that these things exist and to try to understand the impact they have on us and others, all the way around.
A few years ago, a high school teacher posted anonymously on a site called Bored Panda about an important lesson on privilege he shared with his students. He wrote:
I place a trash can in the front of the room, and have my students take out a piece of paper and crumble it into a ball. I then ask them to try to shoot their paper ball into the trash can from where they’re seated. I explain to them first that they as a class represent the country’s population, and that the trash can represents America’s upper class. Being that we live in the “land of opportunity,” everyone will be given the chance to “make it big” and become wealthy by throwing their paper ball into the trash can. Whoever successfully shoots their ball into the trash has made it to the upper class.
Most likely, my students sitting all the way in the back of the classroom will start complaining, saying that their peers sitting in the front have an unfair advantage. I use this opportunity to make the perfect segue into talking about privilege and inequality. The closer you are to the trash can, the better odds you have, the more privilege you have. It’s not impossible for those in the back to also shoot their paper balls into the trash can, but it’s a lot harder for them.
I make a point to explain that the students sitting in the front row were probably unaware of their privilege initially as they only saw the 10 feet between themselves and their goal. I also point out that the people who were complaining were the students sitting in the back. I wrap up the lesson by stating that education is also a privilege, and that my students are capable of using that privilege in order to advocate for those who are behind them.
I love this simple yet powerful example of privilege. With respect to diversity, inclusion, and belonging, our privilege often gets in our way of noticing, seeing, and understanding certain things, as well as our willingness to engage and take action to make necessary adjustments and changes.
In her Netflix special The Call to Courage, Dr. Brene Brown says, “To not have the conversations (about inclusivity, equity, and diversity) because they make you uncomfortable is the definition of privilege.”
One of the realities of being in a dominant or majority group of any kind is that often we aren’t necessarily forced to think about, talk about, or address these issues. And because they can be scary, difficult, and messy to deal with, we either choose to opt out or we simply don’t pay attention.
More deeply and even scarier to admit is that sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge or let go of our privilege because we’re worried about losing it, and afraid of what increased access and opportunity for others might mean to our own ability to succeed.
Our privilege itself and then the denial of the privilege we have are both things that make having authentic conversations about diversity difficult and make it challenging for us to do what needs to be done to create environments of real inclusion.
However, by understanding our privilege more deeply and owning it, without blame, shame, or judgment, we can genuinely address some of these complex issues and move towards creating an environment within our team and company (and society at large) where everyone has a true sense of belonging.
This is an excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020
Given all that is going on these days and the intense level of uncertainty in our world, many people are understandably feeling scared, angry, sad, and more. One of the best things we can do to address this and support everyone around us, including ourselves, is to lead with compassion.
As I talk about in my new book, We’re All in This Together, I’ve heard compassion described as “empathy in action.” While empathy is about understanding and feeling the emotions of others, compassion is about wanting to contribute to their happiness and well-being. Compassion, therefore, is more proactive, which means we can make a habit of it. Teams that intentionally and habitually show compassion to one another are more connected and successful. In operating with compassion, we’re demonstrating our care for each other in a specific, overt, and powerful way.
In an interview for Psychology Today in April 2018, Chris Kukk, professor of political and social science at Western Connecticut State University and author of The Compassionate Achiever, said, “Success is often associated with the individualistic idea of only looking out for number one. However, even Darwin suggested that the most efficient and effective species have the highest number of sympathetic members.”
According to Kukk’s research, compassion helps build resilience, improve physical health, and is a consistent characteristic of success—individually and collectively. Teams that create a culture of compassion are more likely to be engaged, innovative, and collaborative with one another, and to perform at their best.
I had a chance to interview Scott Shute on my podcast. Scott was the VP of global customer operations at LinkedIn for six years—leading an organization of 1,000 people. His interest in leadership, culture, and performance led him to take on a new role in 2018 as the head of mindfulness and compassion programs. Scott and his team have implemented programs to support the people, leaders, and groups at LinkedIn to expand their awareness and skills. “One of the biggest skills needed to achieve our vision at LinkedIn is compassion,” he said. “We believe that compassion is not just a better way to live, it’s a better way to build a team and grow a business that is successful, sustainable, and has a positive impact in the world.”
Kindness, like compassion, is something we can cultivate, nurture, and practice. Different from being “nice,” which we previously discussed, being kind is about consciously and authentically choosing to be friendly, supportive, generous, and considerate toward our teammates (and everyone else we work and interact with). According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, people who were treated kindly at work repaid it by being 278 percent more generous to co-workers compared to a control group.
The great thing about both kindness and compassion is that they’re contagious. The more willing we are to be compassionate and kind to our fellow team members, the more likely they are to be that way with us and everyone else on the team. And, as we consistently and deliberately practice compassion and kindness with the people on our team, we demonstrate our care for them and contribute to a culture that can allow us all to achieve our best results.
Here are a few things you can do to cultivate compassion and kindness right now:
1. Check in with people – Ask people how they are doing, and give them the space to really answer. Being interested in others and their well-being is one of the best ways we can let them know we care and it is the embodiment of compassion and kindness.
2. Listen without giving advice – What most people want more than anything else, especially right now, is to be seen and heard. When we listen to people with empathy and hold back from giving them advice, unless then specifically ask for it, we let them know we care about and value them.
3. Share how you’re feeling with vulnerability – The nature human response to vulnerability is empathy. The more willing we are to share our authentic feelings with others, the safer they’ll feel to do the same with us. And, when we operate with vulnerability it liberates us, connects us authentically with those around us, and encourages compassion all the way around.
* This is an adapted excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020
When I wrote my latest book, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging, I had no idea it would come out in the midst of a global pandemic which has had a significant impact on every aspect of work and life in our world. However, now more than ever, for our teams to navigate these challenging times successfully, we must come together, connect authentically, and lean on each other, which is what my new book and my work are all about.
For the past 20 years, I’ve been studying, researching, speaking, and writing about the qualities of great teams. I’ve been honored to partner with organizations like Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, Gap, the NBA, the Oakland A’s, and so many others—helping them enhance the culture and performance of their teams.
In addition to these large, well-known brands, I’ve also worked with small businesses, government agencies, educational institutions, nonprofits, local school districts, and more. And, while each team and organization have their own unique challenges, goals, and dynamics, there are some universal qualities that allow teams to effectively collaborate, trust each other, and perform at the highest level.
Here are the four key traits of high performing teams that I’ve learned through all of my research and experience:
1. Create Psychological Safety. Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for risk-taking. People on teams with psychological safety have a sense of confidence that their team will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking up or taking risks. The team climate is characterized by an atmosphere of interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves without fear of negative consequences to their self-image, status, or career. Essentially, psychological safety is trust at a group level.
Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson has researched and written extensively about psychological safety over the past 20 years. “It’s not enough for organizations to simply hire talent,” she says. “If leaders want to unleash individual and collective talent, they must foster a psychologically safe climate where employees feel free to contribute ideas, share information, and report mistakes.”
A 2017 Gallup study found that only three in ten employees strongly agree with the statement that their opinions count at work. Gallup calculated that by “moving the ratio to six in ten employees, organizations could realize a 27 percent reduction in turnover, a 40 percent reduction in safety incidents, and a 12 percent increase in productivity.”
2. Focus on Inclusion and Belonging. An essential element of creating a safe environment that allows people to trust each other, collaborate with one another, and perform at their highest level as a team is inclusion and belonging. There are countless studies linking inclusion to higher profits, increased engagement scores, and enhanced business results.
For example, according to a study of 140 U.S. companies by Accenture alongside the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN, those that offered the most inclusive working environment for employees with disabilities achieved an average 28 percent higher revenue, 30 percent greater economic pro t margins, and twice the net income of their industry peers between 2015 and 2018.
Inclusion means “having respect for and appreciation of differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education, and religion.” It also means “actively involving everyone’s ideas, knowledge, perspectives, approaches, and styles to maximize business success.” And, as important as it is for us to focus on both diversity and inclusion, the ultimate goal is to create an environment on the team and in the company where everyone feels as though they belong, regardless of who they are, the role they have, and their background.
3. Embrace Sweaty-Palmed Conversations. Great teams embrace conflict and feedback as natural and important aspects of growth, collaboration, and success. This means we have to be willing to have those awkward, uncomfortable, sweaty-palmed conversations with each other. The problem is that because conflict and feedback can be hard, most teams aren’t very good at it. However, when team members create an environment that is conducive to having healthy and productive conflict, they have an ability to connect more deeply, navigate challenges effectively, give each other feedback in a way that makes everyone better, and innovate in ways that allow them to thrive. Research conducted by CPP Inc., publisher of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, has shown that in the U.S., workplace conflict costs companies more than $350 billion a year. And that figure reflects just the time people spend dealing with conflict; it doesn’t include the emotional, psychological, and physical toll it takes on people personally.
Nate Regier, author of Conflict without Casualties, whom I had a chance to interview on my podcast, says, “The purpose of conflict is to create, not destroy.”
4. Care About and Challenge Each Other. What I’ve seen, experienced, and learned about high-performing teams over the years is that they understand and have a balance of two important things at the same time: Caring About Each Other and Challenging Each Other. Both are essential and both have to be focused on with the same level of intensity for the team and all of its members to perform at the highest level.
For a team to thrive there must be a deep level of trust that everyone has each other’s backs, has good intentions, and is moving in the same direction together.
In a piece published in the Harvard Business Review in 2017, neuroeconomist Paul Zak writes, “Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74 percent less stress, 50 percent higher productivity, and 76 percent more engagement.” In other words, creating a strong culture of trust, as well as an environment where people know they’re cared about and supported by their teammates, leads to significantly greater engagement and performance.
When our team understands, practices, and embodies these four key traits, we can create a culture of high performance, trust, and belonging. And, doing this allows us to thrive, even and especially when we’re facing uncertainty and challenge like we are today.
For more information about the book click here. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below in the comments section.
* This is an adapted excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020
This piece was originally published on Business Insider on March 30, 2020
The coronavirus has had a significant impact on the world, the economy, and just about every aspect of our day-to-day lives. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a job that allows us to work from home, we’re now working in a completely virtual environment, which poses a whole new set of challenges for people, leaders, and teams.
How can we communicate, connect, and collaborate effectively? How will we brainstorm and solve problems? What’s the best way for us to give and receive feedback? How can we make sure people feel included and have a sense of belonging when we’re isolated from one another (and from just about everyone else in our lives)?
These and other important questions have become front and center for many of us and most of the leaders and teams I work with. And while working from home and connecting virtually has been a normal part of our working lives for many years now (and often seen as a perk), being forced to work remotely because of a global pandemic and not knowing how long it will last isn’t something any of us planned for or even thought was possible.
And, here we are. How can your team still thrive in the midst of this challenging experience? Through my work and research on team performance over the past twenty years, I’ve learned that there are two things that separate good teams from great ones: Authenticity and Appreciation.
In the environment in which we find ourselves at the moment with everyone working from home, it’s essential for teams to double down on authenticity and appreciation, so that the team can stay connected, communicate openly with one another, support each other, and still do great work in the midst of everything that is going on.
Here are a few specific things you and your team can do right now in this regard:
1. Lower the waterline on your iceberg – The metaphor I use when talking about authenticity is the iceberg. How we can show up more authentically and enhance the culture of authenticity on our team is by lowering the waterline on our iceberg – sharing honestly about how we’re really feeling and what’s truly going on for us. There’s a powerful exercise that I’ve facilitated for many years with teams which I explain in my TED talk on authenticity called, “If you really knew me…”. Each member of the team takes a minute or two to answer this question and shares how they’re feeling in the moment, vulnerably, with the team. This is a great exercise to do regularly, especially right now.
2. Reach out for support – Most of us are more than happy to help others, but we have a harder time asking for help. One of the best ways to be authentic in a practical way and to create more connection with our team, particularly when we’re separated from one another, is to reach out for support. And, when we do this, not only might we get the help and connection we’re looking for, we give other people the opportunity to do something that most people love to do – contribute to others. As the saying goes, “The answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask.”
3. Check in with each other – Now more than ever it’s important to check in with the people on your team. People are understandably feeling stressed and scared. Everyone is dealing with a lot right now – children at home, people in their lives they may be worried about, uncertainty about the future, isolation, loneliness, and more. Checking in with one another about more than just work, projects, and deadlines, but about life and how people are actually doing and feeling, can go a long way in both staying connected to each other, and also supporting everyone’s well-being.
4. Ask for feedback – Feedback is hard to both give and receive, although it’s necessary for our growth and development, individually and collectively. And, given the circumstances we find ourselves in right now, it’s even more challenging to make sure we’re getting and giving essential feedback. One specific way to make this easier all the way around is to pro-actively ask for it. When we do this, we not only make sure we’re getting important feedback ourselves, but we make it more conducive for others to give it. We all have to make lots of adjustments right now, so we’re going to need even more feedback than usual. A great way to do this, which I talked about on a podcast episode early this year, is to ask, “What can I start, stop, and continue doing right now to ensure that I’m as effective as possible.” This “start, stop, continue” technique is simple, specific, and direct.
5. Appreciate each other – There’s a really important distinction I’ve learned over the years working with people, leaders, and teams. It’s the difference between recognition and appreciation. Recognition is about what we do. Appreciation is about who we are. Both of these things are important and motivating. And, appreciation runs deeper and cuts to the core of who we are and our relationships with one another. Teams that appreciate each other authentically have a huge advantage, especially in difficult times of change, adversity, and uncertainty, like right now. Take time when you connect one-on-one with each other on video or the phone, and especially when you meet virtually as a team, for everyone to get some genuine appreciation from others. People are starving for appreciation, especially right now, and if we can make sure that everyone on the teams knows that we value them, care about them, and that we’re all in this together, it can make a huge difference in their lives personally and in the success of the team.
Feel free to leave a question, thought, or comment below.
The coronavirus pandemic has created massive uncertainty in our country and our world. In the coming days, weeks, and possibly months, work and life as we know it will change fundamentally. And while there is no real way to know exactly what will happen, how long it will last, and what the long-term impact of all of this will be, one thing is for certain…things are uncertain and probably will be for a while.
Strong leadership is essential in uncertain times, and it’s hard. We have to be able to navigate the stress, challenge, and fear of the situation ourselves, and, in turn, support those around us as they navigate it as well. We have to manage diverse people, dynamics, priorities, and changes. And, in a situation like we’re in right now, so much is unknown and this whole thing is both unprecedented and evolving rapidly, which makes it even more challenging.
On top of all this, we are being told to work from home and practice social isolation, which means that just about all of our communication and interaction with those we work with and manage has to be done by video, phone, email, text, Slack, and other digital platforms.
A simple example of leadership in the midst of challenges I heard someone talk about recently is when we’re on an airplane. When we fly, sometimes we experience turbulence. Often the pilot will come on and say, “Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking. We’re going to be experiencing some bumps up ahead, so I’ve asked the flight attendants to take their seats and to discontinue their service until we get through this.” When we hear this, we know that things are going to change and that we need to fasten our seat belts and prepare. When those bumps do eventually come, even if they’re significant and scary, we usually feel okay because we had some heads up and we know the pilot and crew are aware of the situation.
On the other hand, if we don’t hear that message from the pilot and the plane hits unexpected turbulence, it’s often way scarier and upsetting. And, if the pilot says nothing or comes on and simply tries to tell us that it isn’t that bad, that often makes things worse.
During these uncertain times, we want to be much more like the first pilot in this example, not the second.
Here are a few things you can do as you navigate things as a leader in the coming days, weeks, and possibly months while you and your team make your way through this time of intense uncertainty:
1. Take good care of yourself – Using another airplane analogy (and one we hear all the time), it’s essential for you to put your own oxygen mask on first. In other words, if you’re going to lead others through a time of stress, fear, and uncertainty, it’s essential for you to manage your own experience of all of this yourself as best as you can. It’s easy to let your self-care and stress management practices go by the wayside when things are nutty and you have people counting on you. However, it’s important right now to double down on taking care of yourself first – not in a selfish way, but so you are able to be there for others authentically.
2. Communicate constantly – People are freaked out right now, understandably. When things are stressful and uncertain, folks tend to assume the worst possible scenarios in their minds – “the business is going to go under, I’m going to lose my job, me and my family are going to get sick, the world is going to come to an end, etc.” And while you may not be able guarantee much of anything at the moment, what you can do is communicate what you do know and how you are truly feeling with those around you. The more openly you communicate, the less likely people on your team are to make up stuff that is unproductive and unhealthy.
3. Check in with people on a personal level – Work and life still must go on in the midst of all of this, and while you may have a lot of specific things to check in with people about in terms of their work, projects, and deadlines, a big part of your job, especially now, is to check in with people personally. Ask how they are doing and really listen. See how things are going with their families. Many people feel scared and isolated in the midst of this. As a leader you play a significant role in their lives – not just as their boss, but as someone they’re looking to and counting on for support, guidance, and reassurance.
4. Be flexible and nimble – It’s important to remember that you and everyone around you has never been here before. There’s no playbook. Because of this, you’re going to need to be as flexible and nimble as possible. Some of the things you’ll do won’t work, and you’ll have to adjust – both in a practical and leadership sense. Try to check your ego at the door and just respond to who and what you’re dealing with in the moment. The more open you are to doing and trying new things with a growth mindset, the better it will be for you, your team, and everyone around you.
5. Be real – This is a hard and scary time for just about everyone involved. Your team doesn’t need or expect you to be perfect or super human, they want you to be real. It’s not only okay, but really important that you let your team know how you’re really feeling and what’s truly going on for you. Showing up authentically and vulnerably not only liberates you, it allows your team to do the same. It creates the psychological safety that is necessary for your team to adapt, adjust, and perform in the face of all of this. And, it reminds everyone around you that you’re all doing the best you can and, most importantly, that you’re all in this together.
Feel free to share your insights, questions or comments below.