“Horse whispering!”, cries Rit. “They want all female staff members to take obligatory horse whispering courses! On some remote Greek island! With evenings spent reciting Sapphic poetry! It’s going to cost us a fortune!”. Rit leads your company’s unit for effective regulations on spending (e.r.o.s.). “Horse whispering?”, you ask. “Yes”, replies Rit. “All female staff members?”, you ask. “Yes”, replies Rit. “Why?”, you ask.
Rit sighs: “Because of the #metoo debate. Back then, we did a survey, and one result was that many women felt their voices were not heard in discussions with male colleagues. So HR did some research, and some said an army of horses would do the trick, some said they should all go hiking, and some suggested a sailing trip. The horses won – but it’s going to cost us a freaking fortune!”
“You’re really upset about this, aren’t you?”, you say. “Yes”, says Rit, “Horses don’t interrupt, and they don’t talk back to you. So talking to horses is not going to help the women get heard. They could just as well try to touch the sky with their arms!”
A significant part of any leader’s job is to listen to people’s complaints: the water’s too cold; there’s not enough apples for sale; there’s too little space; there’s too much shade; roses wither too fast; there are too many reflections; and sometimes, everybody is just too tired to complain. Then, there are complaints about complaints, and complaints about complaints about complaints. And skilled leaders listen and listen, because that’s part of their job.
Sometimes, of course, leaders can help find a solution. Oftentimes, however, just listening is better, because it prevents leaders from unduly taking responsibility for others’ problems. And almost always, the most important thing is to understand what is underneath the complaint. In general, people complain because they care about something. So, being a caring leader yourself, you can dig up that Rit really wants to help with e.r.o.s. – but thinks the horse whispering course will not work.
Leaders who play back complaints to rewind to the caring that triggered the pain strengthen their organizations’ spirits, showing that they themselves care. Feeding trolls their own words, they help discover what really matters to those who complain.
“I guess it is whatever one loves”, you say. “Can you explain you points to HR? And then together come to me once more, showing what we can do to solve this problem? Take the bitter care from the women’s minds, and give them what they long for? While not giving up on the men? But in all their battles have them fight as comrades?”. Rit gives you an irritated look, but then nods and strolls off.
* This is the eighth of a series of blog posts exploring some uniquely motivating mindfully elaborated ramblings (s.u.m.m.e.r.) of mine, written during my summer vacation in 2019, investigating topics and trends relevant for leaders in today’s multilayered world. All persons, situations, and dialogues quoted are purely fictional, albeit informed by what I see happening in companies I work with. If you want to know what I do when I work, read more here and here [retrieved July 9, 2019].