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I See You

June 6, 2020 by Kathy Scott, PhD, and Bridget Sarikas

This was a tough week to reflect on and wrap our heads around. We asked ourselves the question of how we could contribute in positive ways with the current narrative going on. What are actions that leaders can take to move their organizations forward?

How do we lift ourselves up, versus succumb to the ugly? How can we influence our neck of the woods in ways that move us forward? We will not get there by fabricating or ignoring information. We will not get there by catering to the criminal, unethical and/or inhumane among us – regardless of the tribe we belong to. We will not get there by changing history or apologizing for the color of our skin. And we will not get there by blaming and shaming. These are all distractions that take us away from dealing with the real issues that got us here. We can begin to move forward by seeing the humanity within each of us. Would you agree?

We, as leaders, have the opportunity to impact our areas of influence each and every day through our actions, interactions, and inactions. Sensitive and difficult conversations are ahead in our organizations that will require more of us, perhaps, than in the past. It is critical, therefore, that we have an awareness of who we are and how we are perceived by others – our thoughts and choices, the behaviors we exhibit, our displays of emotion toward others, our response to diverse points of view, our blind spots. Are we seen as part of the problem, or as a trusted person who can move things forward? This can get a bit scary and requires us to summon our inner strength. For it’s important that we see ourselves as others see us so that we can better see and respond to those around us.

Seeing ourselves (self-awareness), as it turns out, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Even though most people believe they are self-aware, research indicates that only 10-15% of us truly are (Eurech, 2018). This same research surprisingly indicates that introspection doesn’t always improve self-awareness. Two insights from this research can provide some guidance for the 85-90% of us who can improve in this area:

1) Develop external self-awareness. It’s important to understand how other people view us. And…the higher your position and more power you hold, the more filtered the feedback and more likely you are to overestimate your skills and abilities. (Let’s face it – we all know people like this.) Those who improved their external self-awareness did so by making themselves vulnerable, seeking out feedback from loving critics (those who were willing to be honest and had the other person’s best interests at heart). These are the courageous.

2) Ask what, not why. Rather than spend significant amounts of time asking ourselves questions that start with “why” (Why did I respond that way? Why am I so against this deal? Why did I come across so negatively?), we can stay more objective, future-focused and empowered to act when we ask questions that start with “what” (What response would have kept the conversation going while communicating my opposing view? What is getting in the way of my acceptance of this deal?).

This journey of seeing ourselves more clearly is a lifelong leadership endeavor. As we develop clarity, we can make better decisions, build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively – all critical skills for approaching the work ahead of us. And…there is much to do.

We also need to see our team members more clearly – really see them – and connect with them in our shared humanity, looking for what we have in common, looking for the positive. Relationships matter more than ever. "In these times of shifting and uncertain values, we have a special need for supportive, enriching and encouraging relationships in the workplace" (Scott, Sarikas & Bessler, 2020). We need each other. Let’s say that again – WE NEED EACH OTHER!

This is an opportunity to look at the cultures of our organizations and ask if we have environments that bring out the best of our teams, environments that promote fairness and justice for the members. It’s time to look more closely through the lenses of diversity of all kinds to find a way forward, using our leadership power for purpose. Here are some actions for consideration:

1) Define your desired identity. Go outside your comfort zone and start the dialogue with people in and outside your circle! Yes, this takes courage! Yes, this will feel uncomfortable! Ask about who you collectively want to be as a family, team, organization, or community. Talk about the power imbalances and the challenges of unrecognized and recognized privilege in your midst --the unearned benefit or advantage one receives in society by nature of their identity. Identify the values and beliefs that support a new identity. Get specific and focused by narrowing them down to the essential three to four. These values and beliefs become the light that guides the way. They remind us of who we are and why we are here. But don’t stop with the theoretical. Too many people write these words in their journal, use them as a screensaver, or frame them on their walls, and then walk away. This only creates cynicism, anger, and distrust. This is not the kind of action we are talking about.

2) Translate values into day-to-day behaviors and skills. Rather than denounce the past or become overwhelmed with guilt (which accomplishes nothing), focus on asking questions that can give significant insight and knowledge into the current state. Encourage grassroots creation of positive alternatives. Here’s a starter set of questions:

  • How can we better identify the talent in our midst?

  • What would help us depersonalize conflict and focus on issues, not people?

  • What are the barriers to people speaking up – speaking their truth? What critical actions would reduce these barriers?

  • What is needed to promote a culture of courageous conversations?

  • What are ways we can leverage the diverse talents and experiences of our workforce?

  • What would significantly elevate the collective courage of this team?

  • How can we use data to help move us to a positive place?

Together, we can then begin to translate the responses into desired behaviors and needed skills that will reinforce the values identified. Role model the behaviors you want to see in others. Recognize when you fail. Apologize and try it again. Don’t hide and revert to what used to be. Resist the urge to stick with the comfortable and the familiar.

But don’t stop yet! In order to truly change the culture, we have to be willing to do the painstaking work of re-examining and re-designing systems and structures that will enable the new values, behaviors and expectations. Now, the fun really begins.

3) Translate values, behaviors, and expectations into everyday systems and structures. Culture is the implied or understood way of being, the learned way of coping with the external environment and dealing with internal relationships (Schein, 2004). It is the force that affects everyday life in obvious and not so obvious ways, such as how power is demonstrated and used, how the work gets done, how emotions are displayed, and how and by whom decisions are made (Scott, Sarikas, Bessler, 2020). This force is with you every day!

In Spreading Kindness vs. Rightness (Scott & Sarikas, May 30, 2020), we identified five culturally sensitive management mechanisms in organizations that influence culture. They are:

  • what leaders pay attention to;

  • how leaders react to crucial incidents and crises;

  • how leaders allocate resources, rewards, incentives, and recognition;

  • how leaders select, promote, and punish; and

  • what leaders role model.

This is a good starting point for translating the desired values, behaviors and expectations of justice and fairness into your organization. As we like to say, this is where magic happens.

Step up and begin the reset journey. Be the one who people look to. Hold your head high. Be willing to step into the open and expose the untruths. Don’t be convinced to take an easier path. For it is through our struggles that we find excellence. Be the discipline.

When’s the best time to start? Today. Let’s focus on creating homes, communities, organizations, and systems that can be trusted. Remember – it begins with you, me, us!

Titter Time: Crap

As long as people will accept crap, it will be financially profitable to dispense it. -- Dick Cavett


Eurich, T. (2018, January 4). What self-awareness really is (and how to cultivate it). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Schein, E. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Scott, K. & Sarikas, B. (2020, May 20). The spread of kindness vs. rightness [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Scott, K., Sarikas, B., & Bessler, C. (2020). Stupid Gone Viral: When Science and Reality Collide. Great Britain: Rethink Press.

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