Last Friday, one of the ladies who does housekeeping at work nervously asked if she could have a picture with me. The guys in the kitchen with us watched confused as I said “Of course!” Two things struck me. The first was how excited she was to have our pictures taken. The second was the confused amusement of the guys in the kitchen watching. As she walked away to get back to cleaning, one of them said “What was that all about? Why did she want a picture?” I shrugged and said “I’m her friend. She wants a picture,” and wandered off.
My friend is a beautiful woman with a gorgeous smile and a body that is always moving to the music piped into her earbuds. I always greet her when I see her and she always graces me with one of her smiles and a hello. Our conversation is limited due to our inability to speak each others languages. She waves when she leaves our floor for the day and I’ve come to expect to see her.
I try to speak to all of the ladies who keep our space clean and over time they have all come to look me in the eye and say hello. This is not special. This is engaging in humanity.
I see people where they are. I can be present with them in their pain, joy, work, and rest. I make eye contact and am quick to smile or wink. I will touch an arm, pat a back, squeeze a shoulder all as a gesture of connection and contact. “Good morning!” is one of my favorite refrains even though I mostly hate mornings. And I am quick to hug, high five, and fist bump…even people that I see every day if they need it.
I have a lot of flaws, but seeing people is something I work at every single day. Because it matters.
As a leader it is one of the things that I can do that gives my teams confidence, bravery, and space. My seeing them enables them to take risks and know I am standing with them. It also gives them the foundation to take my criticism and to deal with the heat that comes when I’m disappointed or frustrated. Seeing people enables them to speak up, use their voices, challenge me when I’m making bad assumptions or choices, and ask me for help.
You might think I’m oversimplifying. But this one thing…Seeing People…is what makes me a leader. Eye contact, interest, kindness, and listening to people all the way to the end of their sentences. I am unendingly curious about people and when they discover that, they often lean into relationships with me. My curiosity and my personal history also means that it takes a LOT for people to surprise me and even more to get me to judge them.
There are many things I still have to work on in order to be the best kind of leader, but if I was giving away one secret, it’s this:
Let them know that you see them
Give them the gift of your attention and receive the gift of their humanity
See people, see yourself, see the world