Lessons from the job that shaped me

We’ve been hearing so much about multi-cultural understanding and how we should all be more sensitive to our employees backgrounds and cultures.  There are even many trainings available for leaders to raise awareness.  However, let’s look at the bottom line of what it really means to be accepting and sensitive to the needs of your employees.

 

I had just started a new job as a staff accountant at the beginning of my career. I was literally skipping to the elevator bank in the tallest building in downtown Los Angeles.  I loved working for this company and was always excited to start my day working on great projects.  On this day, my excitement was a bit more exaggerated as I was going to be attending an industry meeting with one of our firm leaders.

 

As lunch time approached, I headed out to the event.  I had my notebook and my mont blanc to take notes with.  I believe that how you write and what you write with, enhances your memory of the notes taken.  It becomes a beautiful experience in itself.  I like collecting beautiful pens and notebooks to write in.

 

I got there at least 15 minutes early.  Yeah, I always like to get to meetings and events early so I can get a feel for the room, and then can network easily with people as they begin to meander in.  My firm leader also arrived right on time for the event, and helped introduce me to people he already knew.  I was a new staff accountant, and he was an accomplished leader with many years of experience.  What really struck me is the way he introduced me to everyone.  He said – “Neeti and I work together; she has just joined our firm and is already contributing significantly to our clients.”  Wow!  He didn’t say that I worked for him, my tiny title, or that I had barely any experience.  He emphasized that WE WORKED TOGETHER.

 

If you had such a leader at your company, how would that affect your work? I of course worked twice as hard to ensure that I was worthy of the compliment given to me “that I was a significant contributor”.  Leaders like him make you feel included in their team, they make you feel significant instead of insignificant, and they help guide you to your success.

 

As more people came into the event hall and tables started to fill up, the presentation began.  I was taking notes furiously.  I didn’t want to miss anything that was being shared.  Again, this leader looked over and slowly whispered – “Put your notebook away;  just listen.  You’ll get much more out of this.”  As I put my pen down, my ears became more alert and my brain focused on what was being shared by the speaker.  This was such amazing advice!  Once I got back to the office, I did write down all the great ideas that were shared by the speaker so that I would be able to refer back to them.

 

A few minutes later great aromas began to dance through the event hall.  I could now see the servers bringing pre-plated plates to each table.  My tummy was rumbling!  I was ready to devour my food.  And then disappointment!  They were serving a big chunk of steak and some veggies to everyone.  As the server laid the food in front of me, I felt as if the weight of the steak would bore through the table and my spirits.  I don’t eat steak.  Now what?  I thought to myself that  I’ll eat the veggies, and then on my way back to the office I’ll grab some food.

 

My office leader looked over at me and asked -“Neeti, do you eat steak?  I know you are Indian and many Indians do not eat it.”  I honestly replied that I didn’t and that it was ok.  He immediately motioned to our server and told him to take my plate away, and instead bring me a vegetarian plate or some fish.  I protested saying it was fine, but he wouldn’t hear of it. That small gesture on his part, where he ASKED me and was sensitive enough and AWARE enough to even question the fact that I may not eat steak, marked him in my mind as an amazing leader.

Such gestures of kindness and understanding are what separate the great leaders from the rest.  It’s not always big things, attending seminars on cultural awareness, etc, meeting them for coaching sessions, but rather the small actions you take daily when you interact with your employees.  Do you see your employees and co-workers as individuals who may have different tastes in life and varied ideas?  Do you acknowledge them?

I challenge you today to think about one great quality in each of your team members, and at least one thing  that you know about their personal life.  Employees want to be seen as “their whole selves”; they want to come to work knowing that you understand who they are as a person, not just as an employee or your team member.  Let us all acknowledge our team members and their efforts.  That’s what great leaders do.

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