Relationship, Innovation and Resilience: Interdependent and Inseparable
Why are relationship, innovation, and resilience interdependent and inseparable? Innovation requires risk, and if you take risks then you need resilience because there will be failure at some point. Resilience is the ability and will to learn from your mistakes, to try again. To have resilience you need relationship--a connection to yourself and others.
Most people are familiar with the link between innovation and resilience. Why relationship is needed may require more explanation. We often say that organizations need to take risks to grow and prosper. However, it isn’t an “organization” taking risks. It is individuals doing it and perhaps putting themselves and others at risk. What would motivate a person to risk doing something new, especially if things are going well?
We know that our comfort with risk is both personality and culture driven. By culture I refer to both ethnic and organizational. What we don't often address is the role that relationship plays in our willingness to take a risk. The more secure we are in our group membership, the more willing we are to take a chance on being wrong or looking foolish. This comes from the latest neuroscience on inclusion and exclusion.
Apparently, fear of exclusion is primordial and subconscious, so the only way to manage its effects is through education and repeated experiments where small risks are taken that get desirable results. I will share some of the specific beliefs and behaviors that helped me improve my ability to move groups out of fear into relationship, innovation and resilience. They are the result of 40 years of experimentation with teaching, facilitating and leading. They are also the result of my life long struggle with both societal and self-imposed beliefs that I was an outsider and alone.
The belief that I was always the outsider stemmed from being a woman of color, born into the lowest socio economic group where women received one or two years of school at most. My life experience moving from an oppressed childhood to a fulfilling life as a leader and member of many communities has given me the opportunity to take risks, practice resilience, manage my emotions, and record the beliefs and behaviors that carried me successfully out of fear into self-confidence. This has given me wider access to my own and other's capabilities. It is through changing the relationship to myself that I was able tap into the power of relationship with others.
My biggest leadership breakthrough came from realizing that I am not alone.
This is what led me to investigate the importance of relationship. First I had to strengthen my relationship to myself, to trust myself. This allowed me to trust others and let them support me. Now, at the start of a new endeavor, I set the first order of business as facilitating connection and helping people recognize the relationship that already exists as well as expand it. The more I emphasize relationship as the foundation, the greater the results the teams achieve.
My insights into the transformational leadership behaviors and beliefs that promote innovation, resilience and relationships fall into three categories:
Role model learning and resilience • Freely share your mistakes and what you learned from them. This demonstrates that making a mistake isn’t fatal. People can recover and come out stronger. This also makes it easier for people to give you feedback. It makes it easier to receive it too.
• Manage your anxiety. Try to stay calm when people make mistakes. You not only lower their anxiety but you maintain an open channel of communication that will serve you well when people alert you to what might go wrong in the future. The more responsibility you get, the more stress and anxiety. Meditation has worked for me, expanding my capacity beyond anything I ever thought I could achieve.
• Ask questions rather than telling people what to do. It’s okay to give people the answers sometimes, but people remember and adopt the ideas they came up with, so study the art of questioning.
• Be a lifelong learner.
Trust yourself and others • Ask people to help you. Once you let people know you are open their ideas, they will jump in to supply the information and support you need.
• Do establish credibility so people can trust your competence, but do it after you have given them an opportunity to show what they know. Encourage people to give you feedback and let you know they can question you.
• Let go of the belief that you have to be right or have all the answers. You don’t have all the answers and you don’t need to in order to have credibility. Someone in the group will have an idea to contribute or you can think about it and get back to people.
• Consciously establish a relationship with each member of the team or group. Once you’ve you have done that people will give you the benefit of the doubt as long as you address issues and concerns in a timely manner without being defensive.
• Take responsibility for your feelings. You are the only one responsible for how you feel. Others cannot make you feel angry or hurt. You have the power to stop being defensive and taking things personally. It is best to take a breath and ask people questions about their meaning or intention. Many times it will come out that the intention was harmless. When we react by blaming or accusing others we risk severing the relationships. It can also keep us from seeing the truth of a situation. Relax, trust yourself and others. Know that you can recover from this set back. This lowers your threat response as well as theirs and opens your mind to multiple perspectives and potential solutions.
Believe that everyone can and wants to contribute to the success of the operation • People live up to our expectations, so make sure yours are high. No one knows why but it may be related to the mirror neurons in our brain designed to feel the sensations and intentions of other people. When you adopt this belief it raises your expectations and everyone’s performance.
• Almost every doubt that gets raised concerning acceptance of a new initiative or training is lessened when you ask people to adopt this belief. Just ask, “If we believe that every individual wants to and can contribute, what can we ask them to do to help us be successful?”
• Demonstrate that you walk the talk. If you espouse teamwork, collaboration and being your bother’s keeper, live it before you ask others to join in. Make up your mind that if you feel let down you will remind yourself of this belief, take a breath, ask questions to understand, and involve the individual or group in course correcting.
“Lately, I am realizing that the relationship centered approach I am proposing
seems to come more naturally in certain cultures.”
Some have written that it is also a more feminine approach. Notice I didn’t say “woman’s approach.” Men and women have both masculine and feminine sides to a greater or lesser extent. Knowing when to tap into each one is one of the secrets to success.
If you are having trouble embracing a relationship-centered approach to getting results I would ask, “Are you letting your cultural bias blind you to the relationship needs of the individuals in your organization?” The USA, UK and Australia have the highest individualism culture scores in the world. If you were raised in these beliefs it means that you value autonomy, think that people should be self sufficient, and are not raised to look after other people who are outside the immediate family. In the US even the nuclear family tends to disperse once the children grow up. People are placed in elderly care rather than taken care of at home.
So now you are in the workplace and the espoused values are teamwork, be your bother’s keeper, or collaboration. Few of us stop to think how these expectations may be counter to the beliefs we were raised with. Yet, we are attracted to them because biological and psychological factors reside in every human that drive us towards relationship as a necessity for survival. This attraction is fragile when we are first embarking on a journey to create the relationships we need to support innovation or teamwork. The first perceived betrayal, dismissive comment, or failure to walk the talk can cause people to retreat into self protective behaviors. Those are most typically silence and withdrawal. One has to be alert to the earliest signs of conflict and address them. To catch these early signs leaders need to be aware of their own cultural beliefs and biases so that she or he can keep an open mind to better understand the information offered by their followers as well as what is going on around them. This is also important because diversity is so critical to innovation, yet we find it difficult to listen to ideas from people that do not share our perspectives. That means the more diversity there is in a group, the more time that needs to be spent on creating relationship and making the connections visible.
Conclusion Going back to my first post where I brought up that most organizations would like people to speak up to stop a mistake or unsafe action, I think you can see that programs and procedures will not get us there. The desired end result may be elimination of serious injuries or the reporting of accounting practices that could lead to censure. Both require the engagement of every employee in questioning poor practices. But remember, there are enormous psychological risks in speaking up that must be addressed by creating the relationships for receptivity.
Finally, I want to make it clear that when I talk about the importance of relationship I am not saying that the only thing we need to be successful is good relationships. It is the foundation. It is what we have been calling the culture that provides the nourishment that your vision, initiatives, processes, and goals need to become a reality.
Rosa Carrillo is a thought leader in the field of safety leadership. You can learn more about her approach at her website here.