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Check your Baggage…Part 2

February 9, 2011

Yesterday we talked about the need, as individuals, to check our baggage when entering the workplace.  That mental, personal inventorying we can go through to determine “is this REALLY the kind of crap I need to bring with me to work every day?”  I’ll take a smidgen of self-examination and a soupcon of self-awareness.

But now we’re going to put on our Leader hat.  Because as a leader or manager, not only does one need to be mindful of personal baggage, one needs to be aware of ALL THE STUFF that everyone else is schlepping into the workplace with them every day.

We’re all human, and so it’s very easy for personal biases, past experiences or yup, “baggage” to plop down right in the middle of our everyday interactions.  And while it’s important for individuals to be aware, leaders must also examine interactions and events through super-special lenses that peer at the situation and ask “is that someone’s personal baggage sitting there on the floor?”

So in what sort of situations does one need to don these lenses?

  • The time when your pal the hiring manager is ‘reluctant’ to hire the parent of small children.  Because, once upon a time he had an employee with small children and she was forever taking off to deal with them and, come to think of it, there was that other employee who needed to leave early every day so he could get to his kids’ soccer games.  “See,” he says “this never happened with me, because my wife stayed home with the kids.”
  • During a typical lunchroom conversation when Carol, who has a real aversion to taking direction from any male superior, reveals that her ex-husband was arrested for domestic abuse.
  • When refereeing the latest skirmish between two co-workers who squabble and bicker and taunt and tease each other, almost like two teen-age sisters sharing a bathroom, a bedroom and a boyfriend.  Hey… wait a minute….
  • The moment when you learn that the ‘anti-social’ team member who never accompanies the office-gang to the weekly happy hour at Jim-Bob’s Suds and Grub grew up with an alcoholic father.

So could we flex our HR and/or Manager muscles and go rushing in talking about discriminatory treatment and policies and best practices and the importance of team-building?  Sure we could – but what do we gain from that?  Compliance?  Maybe.

People, in all their unique and wonderful glory, bring a variety of experiences, viewpoints and pieces of “baggage” to work every day.    And obviously sometimes we need to call them on their behavior, telling them to get with-the-program or make a change.  But I’ve also found that taking that one little moment to put on those x-ray specs and examine the situation may provide some insight.

Understanding is not affirming that the behavior is appropriate.  But understanding may help you realize what stuff they’ve got stored in their piece of luggage.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2011 8:57 am

    Great and thought provoking. Reminds me of “whose baggage is it anyway” and does it really affect the creativity that you want from that person to be remarkable in their role for you.. Thanks for the post!!

  2. February 10, 2011 6:26 am

    Your message is critical for all leaders, but particularly for those of us in HR. Why? Because those leaders that are struggling will come to us for guidance, and we need to take our time and be thorough before we jump in and start a wave of in-service education like never before!

    As I like to tell our leaders, I’d rather be slow and thorough, then rush to a decision and make a mistake.

    Good tandem of posts!

  3. February 10, 2011 6:42 am

    Hey great post! Certainly at the end of the day, it all boils down to what mental associations the HR professional has with the candidate and/or employee. Therefore if there is a single parent applicant or a disabled veteran in the house, then the HR professional has to be careful with placing everyone in a particular category of negatives. Remaining neutral and professional is the key, leave the bias baggage at home.

  4. Robin Schooling permalink*
    February 10, 2011 7:13 pm

    @Peter @Jay @Yonica –

    thanks so much for chiming in. So true that this can be a challenge for individuals and Leaders too. I like Yonica’s point about placing people in a category of “negatives.” It’s so easy to do and we need to be tuned into those tendencies. And Jay – agreed it’s important to be slow and thorough. Peter – agree if we can’t move the ‘baggage’ out of the way then its hard to focus on allowing people to shine and do their best.

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