Is there a lot of homelessness in your community? There is in Northeast Florida — and probably in most of Florida. The truth is, this is an issue in every community to some extent. You see men and women on the side of the road holding a sign, or on the street just sitting there, or in the woods trying to find a place just to hang out.
What is your response when you see that? This is not meant to judge you. My response has varied over the years from disgust to compassion. From the attitude of, “Come on, if you can hold a sign for six hours a day, you can get a job,” to “Man, how hard it must be to have to beg in order to eat today; what shame they must feel.” I have a varied past myself and I am sure that others at some point in my life have looked at me the same way. How we respond to others’ poor or objective circumstance or behavior tells a lot about how we look at their life — either on the surface (“Get a job”), or down deeper (“How hard it must be”). Let’s relate this to our daily lives: Does how we as leaders look at our team members’ lives determine how we will lead them?
When you see someone come in late five times in two weeks, what is your response? I am not comparing homelessness here to tardiness, but in reality, both are symptoms of deeper issues, and we are trying to get from surface leadership to deeper leadership, really making a difference in people’s lives. So, back to the question, five days in two weeks is a lot. Putting my manager hat on, I have to answer that honestly and say, it depends. If they are a troubled employee who doesn’t fit well or is argumentative, I will be more likely to throw the policy at them with a write-up, and tell them that if it goes on, they will be terminated. If they are a good team player, I will sit down with them and remind them of the policy, but also ask if anything is going on that they need to talk about or that I can help with.
It’s easy to talk to the “good” people. The ones who have it together for the most part. That is a sad confession because it is not what I am called to do. My goal is to respond with compassion — one of my core values — in every circumstance. My reasoning is sound, right? I mean, we try to work people out who don’t fit, so being late five times could actually work to our advantage. Yes, that is true, and some people aren’t a good fit for the organization, but don’t waste a good opportunity to help someone in their life just so you can keep your life easier.
Leadership is not easy and is often messy. If we are not willing to jump into other people’s messes, we will never achieve great workplace culture. We might have it on the surface and have some components in place, but without the depth that can only be provided by dealing with messes, it will be a surfaced-based culture. It’s like the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based upon circumstance. If things are good, we are happy; if they’re not good, we aren’t happy. Joy is much deeper. Joy is based on hope for the future. If you have hope for the future, you know you will get past this current circumstance and stand tall once again.
I actually have experience with a five-times-late person. They were not well liked and did end up leaving the organization, but not until we had a difficult discussion which forced them to open up a bit and discuss a very difficult life circumstance — one that I completely overlooked at first and was ashamed of afterward. After we walked through that discussion, I was amazed at how they responded to their team and to me as time went by. They left for a place that was a much better fit and I ended up having a lot of respect for them. Word got out that we dug in deep to a situation, and respect increased all around. While our workplace culture is not perfect by any means, people know that we are not afraid of the mess of life. That brings a lot of joy because people know that regardless of circumstance, we will do our best to be there for them.
Today I am fortunate enough to serve on a board for an organization in our community that provides crisis housing services. That’s a nice way of saying that we help and serve the homeless. I have learned a tremendous amount about how our community responds to homelessness on a grand scale. On one hand I am amazed at the support, and on the other hand, I am disgusted with the judgement and selfishness. These lessons have helped me bring a lot of compassion into my organization and have given me greater confidence to jump into the middle of the mess. When you see lives change in front of your eyes because of a willingness to jump in, it feeds leaders who want to be more than surface leaders. Don’t waste any more time this week trying to make it easier for you at work — find a mess and jump in. You will be amazed at the impact it has on your environment!