Have you ever felt like you don’t belong somewhere? Have you experienced a panic-inducing bout of imposter syndrome? Been the black sheep of the group? Or even been verbally or physically excluded from a place or situation? Had no sense of belonging?
I’d bet my bottom dollar the answer to at least one of those questions was yes for everyone reading this. It’s a yes for me too. I was an outsider for most of my life. I grew up the literal black sheep of my family (you can read more about that here), and it took a long time before I could really find my place. It took an even longer time to feel like I belonged in this world. I had to navigate belonging under my own roof and with my relatives. Many are blessed not to have to face that challenge.
I’m here to talk to you about belonging under a different roof. One that every employee in the world experiences: belonging at work. I have three tried and true recommendations for leaders to create a sense of belonging at work.
When I say belonging, I mean “the feeling that you have value, a home or a place in which you are fully accepted”.
To clarify, you cannot possibly know if your employees feel like they belong without first knowing your employees.
Let’s begin with step one. You have to seek to understand your employees in their own shoes, with all their intricacies that extend beyond the workplace. The deeper your understanding of your employee goes, the better suited you will be to find the perfect fit for them within your organization.
One of the biggest mistakes glaring under the microscope of 2020 and 2021 is making assumptions about people. Assumptions lead to microaggressions, misunderstanding, and otherwise harmful behaviors. Start to understand your employees better by practicing active listening and including everyone’s voices in the conversation. However, if you’d like more information on this step, you can read about it in my book under the chapter on listening cultures. You can also listen to this podcast episode with Sarah Bierenbaum.
The second step in creating a culture of belonging is to seek out your teams’ strengths and let them shine. This builds off the previous step. If you have already spent time connecting with and getting to know your team better, it won’t be too challenging to discover their unique talents. There are five key ways to uncover your teams’ strengths. I go into detail about them in my book, but I’ll refer to a couple here as well. Go to the employee themself. Ask them where they think they shine and where their biggest area for improvement is. Ask them which part of their job is their favorite; we tend to enjoy doing what we’re good at. In addition, offer your team assessments like Strengthsfinder, DISC, Meyers Briggs.
Accompany these new behaviors with recognition and positive feedback, even if the result is a failure. Commend your employees for trying and testing their limits. If you would like to learn more about uncovering your teams’ strengths and maximizing them, listen to this podcast episode with Timbra Yoakum.
Ironically, the third step to creating a sense of belonging is, in fact, inclusion. You will only feel that you truly belong somewhere if you are welcomed to the table. Trust is the foundation for any safe space to be possible. There needs to be an explicit and implicit invitation to your employees to speak openly and honestly.
Furthermore, welcoming your employees’ voices helps them feel safe and cared for. You can begin this process of inclusion by sharing your own stories first. Lead by example. If you want a more detailed explanation of this, I invite you to listen to this episode of my podcast with Mark Nagel. In it, we dig deeper into the creation of safe spaces and how to encourage your team to open up and let their voices be heard.
If you have any more questions about the intricacies of creating a sense of belonging within your organizations, then please join us in the Caring Leadership Community! Also, I invite you to take the Caring Leadership Self-Assessment to gauge where your strengths and areas of improvement are. This will better guide you as you create a culture of caring within your workspace.