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Root Bound or Evolving? Norm Busting is Vital to Growth!

Ever garden? Know how that root ball needs to be broken up a bit before it’s placed in the pot, so the plant can grow? Our prejudices, biases and assumptions are like that binding constraint, keeping us in the space we inhabit, comfortable, maybe even accomplished, maybe feeling safe and thinking we’re healthy.

But the reality is that we’re bound and constrained from being our best selves.

In our ‘start with why,’ workshops, we help executives think through and better articulate why they do what they do. (Because people buy the why, not the what!) Invariably in America, work life and interactions center on titles and roles within companies. We’ve worked hard to achieve them. For Boomers like me, respecting norms was key to success.

To lead what’s coming though, to shape the ‘new normal’ and build back better, we’ll need to unshackle ourselves and evolve to fill our new space. It’s essential to recognize norms in play and stereotypes we’ve unconsciously accepted, so that we can be intentional about determining which to keep and continue to respect and which should be unlearned so new growth can happen.

People vs. Functional Roles

First, let’s work on seeing people as whole human beings in all their complexity. And then, give creative thought to how future work environments could provide the rich soil and nutrients to nourish those whole people, and help them thrive. There’s a lot we need to UNLEARN!

Remember the Xerox Personal Selling Skills (PSS) 1 &2 courses? We learned to target our prey, work a room, make a pitch, counter objections, make the sale. The targets: high level decision-makers in prioritized market segments and company types. Ever been talking with someone and see their eyes scan the name tags nearby in case there was someone ‘better?’ Ugh.

That’s actually training in how to objectify a person!

Engaging with a person on terms unrelated to their functional role can be a means for to learn and grow. For me, that didn’t really happen until my business was my own. With less pressure on generating revenue today, I could network with no ulterior motive. Engaging with people to learn, not centering on how they can help you, enables the relationship to grow to be whatever it is. For me, that has been truly transformational, helping me become a better person and better at what I do.

What ‘Norms’ Shape Your Values and Behaviors? (What Surprises You?)

Most of us are unaware of the norms we’ve accepted. Our biases are unconscious. Our culture, upbringing, entertainment and media reinforce stereotypes, prejudices and assumptions we’ve made consciously or unconsciously – which have become the ‘water we swim in.’ We’re going to pick a few and offer up a series of brief pieces to illuminate some of the stories we’re telling ourselves – and see if we can facilitate some root busting so that unlearning can begin and growth to follow. For now, let’s look at norms shaping the paradigm.

There’s a lot of overdue talk about improving our businesses’ diversity, equity and inclusion. But, rather than objectifying people as some demographic we can ‘check off’ our list of who we’re being told we should include, let’s rethink the demographics themselves. Some are outdated concepts in today’s world. (a topic for the next blog).

The objective is to involve diverse views, values and ways of being, for a better understanding of ‘what is,’ so that we can make informed decisions on strategy and objectives, right? So, it should NOT be a case of the dominant white male culture welcoming or inviting ‘others’ to the table. Consider how that mindset or paradigm differs from this: we are all equals.

We are ALL some color, gender, physical capability, sexual orientation, management or work style, socioeconomic background, education, skillset and age. Human beings are complicated and individual. And people change! With a more whole representation of perspectives on “what is,” you can better define goals, objectives and strategy together.

We all have unconscious bias: our internal voices are telling us stories about people before we’ve even met them. If you’re ever surprised by someone’s accent, position, capability or skillset, consider what story you had running in your mind about that person’s ‘type’ before meeting. Those surprises reveal your biases and assumptions. Become conscious of them. Oh, that new mom IS willing to travel? That older person is your ‘go-to’ for tech? This black man is our sector’s leading angel investor? The white man is a home maker? The Asian woman, the gay couple, the guy in a wheelchair, the biracial Gen Z, the Millennial and on and on …

Leadership and building teams in a new normal will require a new mindset. We need to first wake to our binding biases. Those who will aggressively work to break them down will evolve, grow and shape the new. And I suspect that race, gender, age, physical capability and sexual orientation will not be categorizations that matter.

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