A few years ago, in the early stages of working on my book, there was a temptation to overhype the message by using “change the world” somewhere in the subtitle. Making that type of claim just felt too over the top, and thankfully we resisted the use of the phrase.
The idea that we can change the world isn’t a bad thing. As the Beatles noted, we all want to change the world, and hopefully for the better. More often than not, however, we mainly change our little parts of it with the way we go about life and the influence we have on those around us. The more we can expand that influence, the more of the world we can change.
The challenge of how we find ways to influence the world around us came to mind recently during my Off the Rak interview with Heather Younger, the founder and CEO of Employee Fanatix. We didn’t talk specifically about changing the world, but several of her answers revealed insights about how we can expand our influence.
So if you want to change your part of the world, here are some ideas from that conversation on how to get started.
Identify the problems you can help address
Heather has written three books – one on employee loyalty, one on becoming caring leaders, and most recently one on active listening. The books represent one of the ways she is having a positive influence on the world around her, and they all emerged from a common desire: To address a problem.
“The catalyst for every single one of these was being around the opposite of what I’d like the world to be,” she said. “I’m a person who truly believes that we have to be the change that we’re seeking.”
Heather once worked on the customer experience team for a company that went through a merger and then began to suffer from poor internal communication under its new leadership. Employees were frustrated, confused, and anxious. She easily could have sulked, complained, or undermined the management team. Instead, she worked with HR to form an employee engagement council with the goal of improving the situation.
“I’m at a high level of frustration right now,” she would say to herself, “and I know the right way to do this. I can’t be stuck in the muck, meaning I can’t stay put. I also have to evolve and change, and I want to help others do the same.”
She wound up among the employees who were laid off in the aftermath of what ultimately would be a failed merger, but she didn’t see her efforts as a waste of time. One, they were the right thing to do. And two, what she learned from the experience informed much of what she’s gone on to do, including founding a business and writing books.
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Narrow your focus
Heather is a mother of four, and three of her children are teenage boys. As any parent can attest, that’s a leadership challenge! So when the inevitable chaos occurs in her family, how does she deal with the pull toward command-and-control leadership that’s usually more directive than compassionate and caring?
“There are times where I’m just like, You know what – I’m not going to win here if I try to answer all of them or try to solve a problem for all of them all at once,” she said. “I have to break it down one bite at a time. So I have to have one kid talk, the other ones shush. And then another one talks and the other ones shush. And I just kind of get to the information that way. That way, I am at least seeking in a way that gets me to the truth of what they need from me in that moment.”
Let active listening direct your leadership
The models and lessons Heather learned about active listening when she was working in customer experience also work, she discovered, with internal teams – or when raising children.
Those lessons and models became foundational to her current success. The company she left, meanwhile, struggled because the leaders committed to a product strategy that customers didn’t want. But they didn’t know customers weren’t interested because, Heather said, “They didn’t ask. They didn’t seek.”
When leaders fail to listen to their customers and to their employees, she learned, it costs them, because they make poor strategic and tactical decisions for the business while leaving a wake of frustration in their key stakeholders.
Heather developed a core philosophy around the notion that when leaders practice active listening, people feel heard and valued. This creates a culture that prioritizes people, and that leads to good ideas and to pivots away from bad ideas. And that makes the world better for the employees and their customers.
I don’t know about you, but when I look around the world, I see plenty of things that just aren’t right and that I wish could be different. I think we can all take a cue from Heather by looking at problems we can help solve, focusing on them one at a time, and using active listening as a strategy for action to make the world just a little better.