I just returned from an inspiring summit in Atlanta, hosted by the Black Women’s Leadership Council. The council started as an employee-driven organization within the Xerox Corporation back in the mid-1980s. It has since expanded to include membership to all black women. While it continues to play an invaluable leadership role in the advancement of black women within Xerox, it now also provides similar support to black women outside of Xerox, and its foundation provides scholarships to young black women throughout the United States.
I was invited to facilitate a discussion forum on how to leverage the power of multiple generations in the workforce. And while my sessions were fun and lively, and I hope participants left understanding the importance of intentional communication among employees of different generations, I left having received way more than I contributed.
The summit’s theme was “Resilient Leadership: The Art of Managing Transformation” – applicable not only the professional black women in attendance, but also to anyone with a leadership role, or who aspires to such a role. In this age where uncertainty is the norm and change is continuous, I received valuable lessons from the women and men who shared their secrets to finding safe harbor.
One of the lessons that resonated most for me came from Ella Bell, of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Bell is a leading expert in managing race, gender and class in the workplace. In sharing her personal resilience story, she also shared a powerful formula: Performance + Relationship = Advancement. In other words, too often we are so focused on our own performance that we don’t stop to nurture the relationships important to help us be our best resilient selves. And when the relationship factor suffers in the equation, it is nearly impossible for us to advance.
“Is your vision for the common good?” she asked participants after dinner one night. “It is not ‘atta-girl’; it’s ‘atta-group.’”
Bell, like many other presenters, reinforced that relationship-building can only be achieved with intentional effort. This means taking the time to have deep conversations with your colleagues so you understand and appreciate who they are and what makes them tick. This concept came up during my session on multiple generations, too. Panelist Rita Hunter-Williams shared her concern that in this virtual working world, it is getting harder to have a personal connection with our colleagues, and without that connection many opportunities can be missed or unnecessary misunderstandings can take place. When they do, it halts efficiencies at best, or sabotages opportunities.
I left asking myself how I can do better as an individual and a leader in my organization to make sure relationships are not overlooked. How can I help my clients as they also try to navigate the changing tides of their organizations? And how can organizational leaders do more to elevate the consciousness of the importance of personal relationships when instant messaging and texts replace real conversations among working groups?
Technology affords all of us opportunities for efficiencies. But it is only a tool. True efficiency comes from teams of trust, built by real individuals who know each other well. People make up our workforces and are their driving force. At the end of her talk, Dr. Bell encouraged all of us to get out there and light some fires. My match is lit. Is yours?
Michelle Hicks, a senior professional in human resources, is a director in the communication practice of Buck Consultants, a Xerox company.