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The Neglected Community: Rebuilding Significance in Your Team

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Jon Kidwell is a leadership and business coach who helps leaders in mission-driven organizations succeed. This is Part Two in a six-part series devoted to helping you lead, build, care for, and navigate impending issues that will impact the future of your team and your organization. In Part One, we introduced The Neglected Community. In Part Two, we address rebuilding personal and professional significance in your team.

“I just don’t feel valued. I was furloughed, my pay was cut, they changed my title and it sure feels like a demotion, and I oversee more than I did before COVID-19. Beyond that, I don’t know what we’re doing anymore, no one tells me anything, and I am just tired.” 

This is a real quote from a real senior program director. And they are struggling to find significance in their life and work. Because of that, they are disengaged, distraught and not giving their best effort.

The Struggle for Significance

The last two years have presented countless uncontrollable situations. Many of them were tackled with courage, generosity and grace. And there were other scenarios where our best could not keep, please or provide everything that every person needed. And the need to act quickly and decisively – many times changing decisions by the hour – left much of the team in the dark.

There is no changing the past. But there is always an opportunity to show the team how much they are valued by restoring personal and professional significance. When you do you will avoid – or limit – the next crisis of great and talented people leaving our community rec organizations.

Significance is the quality of being worthy of attention, importance. Mission-driven work, by its nature, often brings a feeling of significance and meaning to the people who do it. This empowers people who seek to serve others to sacrifice for the greater good. Lower pay, longer hours and taxing work – physically and emotionally – are accepted as badges of honor for doing work that matters. The trouble is when those sacrifices must increase, especially for an extended period, they often become too much. Combine that with chaos, uncertainty, lack of recognition and a focus on the bottom line instead of the mission, and it creates a vacuum where people don’t feel valued and like the work has lost its significance.

Rebuilding their personal and professional significance will help show how much you value them. When you do you will re-engage their hearts and minds and activate a unified, passionate team of people to advance the mission.

10 Ways to Rebuild Personal and Professional Significance in Your Team

Affirmation. Like water for a dying plant, a positive affirmation can restore life to a weary person. Where encouragement is uplifting (i.e. Good job!) giving an affirmation is invigorating (i.e. Great job – I am impressed by how you navigated that difficult situation and created a win-win) because it is encouraging, informative and makes people feel seen.

Boundaries. Although it’s difficult, establishing and honoring boundaries is critical for creating a life of significance, personally and professionally. Start with permission to be on and off of work. Beyond being healthy, this boundary alone will reduce burnout, resentment, and restore people physically and emotionally to do even better work.

Clear Communication. Nat Turner said, “Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.” In addition to sharing information, make it easily understood and actionable.

Direction. To do work that matters, we need to know what matters. The better you can clarify what is most important the more likely it is people will achieve it.

Expectations. While expectations can feel burdensome or overbearing, they actually provide the opportunity for people to feel significant when they achieve hard things. Where expectations are missing, so is the opportunity for improvement and excellence.

Feedback. Without clearly communicated direction and expectations, feedback is just opinionated criticism. When delivered well, feedback is a gift and a growth tool. Give feedback well by making it specific, corrective and done for that person’s benefit.

Gratitude. We all get paid for our work. And still, everyone has options. Share how grateful you are for what they’ve done, for what they do on an ongoing basis, and for what they do as they continue to show up and serve.

Help. There’s the help people provide when they need you to learn or do something. Then there’s the help we receive in situations where we cannot help ourselves. The first is appreciated, the second is necessary to move forward. Search out where your team cannot help themselves and provide the help they need.

Inspiration. Even in mission-driven work, it is easy to get lost in the minutia and the mundane. Communicate why the work matters and the difference they are making. Specifically, connect inspiration to the goals, vision and expectations to add another layer of significance to the work.

Love. Not emotional love. But love displayed through committed acts of service toward others. This often shows up as unconditional acceptance and putting the needs of others above your own. When do you communicate how significantly you value the people you lead?

We all fear a life of insignificance. Give your team the personal and professional significance they need to feel valued and successful by focusing on providing these 10 things.

After we rally as a team and rebuild significance, how do we set expectations and keep them engaged? Check back next week to discover how to increase engagement with clear expectations.

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Jon Kidwell

Jon Kidwell coaches leaders in mission-driven organizations. He helps leaders develop the leadership and business skills they need to succeed with a mission-driven, people-centered approach to getting results and growing impact. For over 15 years Jon worked in nonprofits, 11 with the YMCA, most recently as vice president of innovation and operations for the YMCA of Greater Houston. Jon is the founder and president of The Kidwell Team and teaches Organizational Leadership at Concordia University Irvine. Connect with Jon by email at jon@jonkidwell.com, on LinkedIn, or visit his website jonkidwell.com.

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