I was driving my teen-aged daughter somewhere on a Saturday morning … and as teen-aged daughters usually do, she promptly plugged her phone in to the car’s music system and started her playlist. Immediately a blast of loud hip hop laced with profanity filled the car, she looked at me and said “sorry — this is the explicit version” … here’s how the conversation went from there –
Me: “Why do you listen to this stuff?”
She: ”This is great music, and it’s not just music — it is poetry”
Me: “Stairway to heaven is great music …this is not”
She: ”I like Led Zeppelin too … but you, on the other hand are missing out on a whole genre “
Me: “What I don’t understand is why does he have to use these swear words –music should be clean”
She: ”Are you being serious right now?” … then she put off the music, turned to me and said –
“ I am going to say something seriously — you think that Kendrick Lamar cares about your sensibilities? Some of these artists have gone through a lot — they face gang violence, they get into trouble in their childhood and youth with no guidance… this is how they talk, that’s the natural way for them to express themselves — they are artistes, they are poets, they are geniuses who produce beautiful art in the form of music — and you, in blocking them out are completely missing out — I feel sorry for you!”
I then realized that aside from the obvious life lesson, my daughter just gave me a leadership lesson as well. Leadership that allows talent to flourish by creating an environment free of artificial constraints. Now, I am not advocating allowing profanity in the workplace, we’ll leave that for the superstar rappers! But a good leader needs to understand what makes her team thrive and allow that space for creativity and innovation.
This of course is not a new concept — and there is a ton of literature on creating the right environment for innovation. What I want to discuss here is really a few basic approaches that we can all as leaders take to help make individuals perform at their best. In today’s diverse workplace, you are likely to lead teams of various backgrounds, personalities, orientation and cultures. You will not always know them or their culture — but you can certainly take some actions to make sure no one feels out of place, no one thinks they are different — and no one feels constrained to unleash their creativity. A few small steps that I believe are helpful are –
Be humble, and promote humility
No better way to make your team comfortable than to lead them with humility. Your team will need you to be strong, but at the same time your humility will remove their fear and anxiousness. You may not know it or realize it — but you as a leader are setting examples for the team. Your team is watching you and learning from you — your humility will be a source of confidence for your team.
Ask questions and encourage others to do the same
Sometimes even if you know the answer … just so no one hesitates to ask what they may otherwise think is a dumb question. I have seen many talented professionals struggle with small problems that they could easily resolve by talking to someone. If you as a leader set the tone by always willing to ask for help, an introvert geek who is not all that fluent in the English language (yes, you will have these types of individuals in your team) will feel it’s ok to do the same.
Embrace difference, not just allow it
We are fortunate to live and work in a time where our teams are from all over the world and with a kaleidoscope of backgrounds … embrace these, otherwise you will be like me missing out on hip hop!
How you do this will depend on your team, the circumstances and the type of work — the important thing is to be conscious of the differences, get to know them– and celebrate them as much as possible. This is not just for the team — it will be an enriching personal experience for you as well … (you never know, you may just fall in love with cricket!)
These are just a few strategies … and I am sure you will have other ideas, I just believe that for a team to perform at its highest potential, the leader should consciously work on ensuring that every individual can work in an environment that is as natural and as familiar to them as possible.
An environment where rap and rock & roll can coexist …
If you are wondering what came out of my little discussion with my daughter …. I have ONE hip hop number on my playlist now!!