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Authenticity Humanity Leadership Self awareness Trust

How do you make a lasting difference? Be human! Be you!

Higher degrees of trust improve the quality of interaction and alignment within a team. They unleash energy, engagement, commitment, and ownership .

One of my favorite exercises to do with teams is the lifeline exercise. A lifeline exercise involves a conversation among team members who share their life journey, focusing on those moments when life takes a turn for the better or worse.

Moments one will never forget when reflecting on life. 

One of those moments was when I decided to take on a job opportunity in the Czech Republic in 1995. As a consequence of that momentous decision, I now have a wonderful family, enjoyed a great career in food retail, and spent more time living abroad, which has enriched my life. Living abroad has changed who I am. Working in retail has made me a better leader. Being part of a multicultural family has changed my perspective on humanity.

Gaining perspective is the key skill here and is tough to master.

It’s easy to say that we put ourselves in the mind of the customer, our people, or family members. I challenge you to try it, really try it. Try to listen to your conversation partner without any prejudice or judgment. Try to silence that voice in your head that’s telling you that what the person is saying is not valid, exaggerated, too vague, or judgmental in itself. Do not feel blamed when somebody comments about something you feel responsible for.

I recently had a conversation where my conversation partner said something factually wrong. After that statement, I tried to interrupt and correct the fact. But the fact was irrelevant to what the person was trying to say. My little voice took over, and I couldn’t hear what the person was saying anymore.

Listening, really listening to another person, is one of the hardest things to do. Once you’ve mastered that skill, the next step is to then not only hear but see the perspective of that person as well, asking yourself this powerful question:

“What if they are right? What if I am wrong?”

A lifeline exercise helps one understand the team members and see things through a different lens. Knowing someone’s background may help one understand why people do what they do and say what they say. 

It is critical that we listen to our team colleagues without prejudice, judgment, blame, little voice, power, hierarchy, bias, or interruption.

This is almost impossible, but we can at least try, right?

We may not get it right, but the more we practice, the more we grow, learn, and impact others. People love it when we show we know how to listen, and they hate it when we interrupt.

Practice makes perfect.

Few teams try the lifeline exercise, and most shy away from it. This is often because the boss is insecure, prefers the comfort zone, and is not ready to share vulnerability with the rest of the team. The excuses are always the same: We don’t have the time. We don’t know each other that well. We have a few new members or vacancies, so we will do it later. It may be emotional, and business is not about emotions — stuff like that. 

Excuses.

Of course, you must build a safe environment where people are willing to share their stories. You may not have complete psychological safety in your team, but this exercise will help you increase it. Your intentions need to be sincere and authentic. 

As the leader, consider setting the tone first, as long as you realize this is not about showing off to your team but telling your authentic story. You need a skilled facilitator who knows how this works to help create the right environment and support the process. 

A lifeline exercise is not a therapy session. It’s important that people share what they want to share and keep things they don’t want to share for themselves. Some people are more comfortable sharing personal stories than others, and that’s ok. It’s not a competition showing who has the best or worst life experience.

Every lifeline exercise I have done has resulted in greater understanding, respect for each other, understanding why people were who they were, and higher trust. Trust is the number one condition needed to build high-performing teams.

When trust is present, you have a chance. Without trust, forget it.

Higher degrees of trust improve the quality of interaction and alignment within a team. They unleash energy, engagement, accountability, commitment, and ownership — all those beautiful words we hear frequently but often based on a fragile foundation. 

A lifeline exercise is not a ‘waste of time,’ a too-fluffy, too-soft skill, or a ‘what does HR want this time’ type of exercise. When done well, that investment in trust will ultimately drive business performance. Being human and investing in trust helps drive profit.

It’s really that simple.

But, I realize the world is wonderfully simple and complex at the same time. It depends on how you prefer to look at the challenges crossing your path. The best leaders keep things simple, understanding that humans are complex creatures. The best leaders themselves are human first. 

To quote Simon Sinek:

“Great leaders don’t see themselves as great. They see themselves as human.”

Simon Sinek

Building trust means being willing to be human first. You’re not just looking at experience and accomplishment but also intentions, values, and behavior. 

In the past few insights, we’ve looked at leaders through the eyes of the leader. I’ve focused on the decision to become a leader, listening, the illusion of control, qualities needed, and building trust.

I’m now shifting to understanding the people we serve, our customers, and the stakeholders within our context. While each of these groups consists of unique and gifted human beings who all do what they do with different intentions, there are certain similarities — similarities that drive human behavior and are crucial to understanding when the ambition is to be a great leader.

So…

Be human. Be you. Everybody else is already taken.

Your turn: How YOU are you?

Erikjan

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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