J. Finkelstein, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

“Part 2: Ode to Maslow” by Rizwan Oskoui

Welcome back, dear readers! Have I sold you on the value of professional mindfulness yet? (See Part 1: Translating Soft Skills in the Time of Covid.) If you’re not quite there, you’re in luck. I’ve got another installment.

You may need a bit of background for this one, so let’s get down to basics. Every business class I’ve ever taken has referred to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a core concept, a way of understanding what drives human behavior. A person can only focus on the higher needs in his five-tier triangle (belonging, esteem, self-actualization, etc.) once their lower needs (food, water, shelter, safety) are met. (Personal note – I love Maslow. If I could write sonnets and ballads extolling his virtues, it would happen. Thankfully for everyone, I recognize this would be an affront to the arts and have refrained from doing so.)

Back to our regularly scheduled program: personnel management can be a difficult subject. Some people are innately good at working with others; they realize they can benefit from learning or refining a couple of skills. Others just stumble along, either oblivious or unconcerned about the damage they may inflict. This is probably dangerous territory for a writer, but that is exactly why I’m covering it. I live life on the edge.

Let’s recap part 1:

  1. Mindfulness is good for everyday life
  2. Apply it to client work, and you have professional mindfulness
  3. Professional mindfulness can help you gain insights which otherwise might be lost in the quickened pace of the 21st century

The fundamental concept to remember is that you play a role in the growth and development of other humans – your colleagues for example. This isn’t something to be taken lightly.  In the 15th century, John Donne wrote the timeless words, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Centuries later, Google tells me there are at least four songs that use Donne’s opening phrase. Obviously, there must be some truth to his wisdom.

What does this mean for managers? Are you held to a higher standard of mindfulness, or simply a different standard? Can you use the client’s environment to your advantage? How do you help your team help themselves through your practice?

Let’s go back to the image of the World’s Least Interesting Room (see Part One). In our previous exercise, we used this mental space to perform very specific client analyses. This time, we’re going to use that same space to examine our knowledge of, and relationships with, our team. At any given point in time, each person you manage has professional ambitions, balanced (by whatever definition) with a personal life. This is all underpinned by a collection of experiences that have shaped (and continue to shape) them.

Understanding what someone needs – here and now – allows you to better engage, by creating an atmosphere of trust. You are, essentially, being mindful of them as a person, and meeting them on their terms. It will be easier for you to understand their goals, but more importantly, you’ll be able to provide more targeted support as you help them grow. It is entirely possible that you’ll find unrealized skills yet to be leveraged. Collect these information snapshots, apply them to interactions, and use the whole library to build a team whose members complement each other, organically fostering each other’s growth.

Let’s be clear, dear reader. There can be a considerable front-end investment, depending on the size of your team. The key is to focus on the end goal: morale and growth. By focusing on “personness”, you’re creating an environment where people are emboldened to find creative solutions and engage their peers to realize efficiencies. The manager’s return on investment (ROI) generally includes a variety of intangible benefits, including but certainly not limited to, loyalty and a willingness to go above and beyond in crucial situations. In the case of discovering an unrealized skill, the ROI can easily be two or three times your initial investment alone.

This is where awareness of the client environment can provide a noticeable advantage. As consultants, we’re frequently told it’s in your best interest to understand the client space. From a personnel standpoint, you frequently see assignments based on how a person looks on paper. Client needs this skill? Assign this person because they have the skills. Your result will be good, and the delivery work will be sufficient for acceptance. Consider for a moment how that could change if you have a greater awareness of both the client environment and the “personness” of your team. You’re now able to create assignments that serve all stakeholders at a deeper level.

The client will benefit from the time you’ve invested in being mindful about team interactions. The bottom line is that they will receive higher quality support overall, and in today’s competitive environment, anything that will raise a firm’s reputation is a win.

It is your job, as manager, to empower your team at multiple levels to function as a cohesive unit, ready to take on the world. You are simply the conductor. The strengths you nurtured may have gained them new-found confidence and/or new or enhanced skills. Either of these is sufficient to solve additional challenges or work more efficiently. If both result, the sky (or your contract) is the limit. Whichever comes first.

I realize some of this may be old hat or incredibly idealistic, but I hope it may have sparked something somewhere for someone. The basic question remains: is the standard higher or is it different? Returning to Donne’s wisdom, maybe a manager is simply someone who is tasked with seeing the bigger picture – the whole continent, rather than just their own square.

Remember: the ability to see the squares around you depends on your understanding of your own patch of earth. Sure, you can see a scattering of what might be trees and grassland, but do you really know what they look like without first investing the time to look at yourself? The moments we take to look introspectively are like ripples in a pond – even the smallest breeze will have an impact on the farthest shoreline.

Next time, we will bring this series to a close with a neat little bow. Thanks for hanging in there, readers.