Welcome to our interview with Felicia Spahr, Artist at Felicia Spahr. Felicia previously specialized in working with leading companies in the food, travel, and hospitality industries who want highly creative, motivated, and productive teams and their top talent to perform at their best.
Welcome Felicia, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of Forward Thinking Workplaces.
Bill Fox: How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, people thrive & find meaning, and change & innovation happen naturally?
Felicia Spahr: I think that’s such an interesting question especially the part where we talk about how these things can happen naturally. You can’t force something onto other people, so as I thought about this question, I thought a lot about parenting.
Even though I don’t have children, I feel like there are many similarities there when you are a parent who is embodying the things you want them to absorb and to learn. It is so much easier for the child to pick it up then if you were saying one thing that you wanted to teach them, but you were embodying something else. Children watch what you do, and they don’t necessarily take what you say at face value.
Even though there aren’t five-year-olds running around in a corporate company, I think the same principle still applies. It’s so much more important to start from the inside-out.
What do I need to absorb and learn myself, so whoever is around me picks it up? And how can whatever I say be completely aligned with who I am, and there’s no incongruence?
I think that’s a place to start because I feel that this is something that’s forgotten. There are so many books about leadership and business, and a lot of it is somewhat tactical about getting people to be inspired, motivated and productive. But there isn’t necessarily a lot of material about taking a good hard look at yourself and focusing on what are the principles that I want to teach. What do I want to be flowing throughout my company like water and how can I start living that right now? It feels counterintuitive, but I think it’s a better way.
Bill: What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Felicia: I like the question a lot too. I think it builds well on the first answer, which is starting with the change from the inside out. If you start there, then I feel like the next step in response to this question is taking the time to listen to someone.
But I want to expand what I mean by listening because it sounds very simplistic, and it’s starting to become a bit of a tired word. What I mean my listening is that it’s not just sitting down with someone and asking them questions and being silent when they’re speaking. My interpretation of listening is keeping someone in your heart. You’re not just paying attention to them when they’re in front of you; you are thinking about them. You are noticing small details that maybe someone else wouldn’t notice that give you clues about where that person is at.
I think this is so important—things that they can’t necessarily articulate. Maybe they’re not even aware of it. So I think with this kind of listening, you are listening in the deeper abyss of the ocean if you will rather than just listening to someone’s words—taking them at face value. I think that’s a place to start because it reveals the right information to you and gives you almost a map for how to develop a good relationship with that person and understand what they need.
I think one of the biggest reasons why it isn’t necessarily something that’s always talked about or focused on is because a lot of people say I don’t have time. I don’t have time to do that. I have this project, I have this meeting, and it’s sad because those things are the short term focus where all the trouble and all the problems that come up could easily have been solved with a little bit of extra time in the beginning. That’s a principle that I feel isn’t necessarily always embodied, so people don’t do it. Everyone’s looking to the top for what to do and how to act, so if they’re not doing it, why would they?
Bill: What do people lack and long for at work?
Felicia: I love this question too because I feel like it’s interconnected with the second question. When you’re deeply listening to someone in that way where it’s a much more ongoing thing then just a one-off kind of meeting is this idea of people feeling like they’re listened to and seen.
I also hear this all the time is people feeling like they’re not making a tangible impact. Many people say they’re just sitting at a desk all day. They’re not sure where their work is going or who it’s impacting. They feel like as humans it’s so important for us to get an understanding of what does it look like when I press submit? When I hand this in, when I complete this project, what are the after effects of it? Because sometimes actually in most cases people don’t see that, so the impact feeling is very fleeting.
Thinking about different ways you can help people see the true impact of their work is very important. I’m sure there are many ways this can be applied to all kinds of different industries. If you are a CEO or manager, you want to make sure employees have that feeling of this is good work. You want to show them and show them in different ways. What does it feel like? What does it look like? What are the long-term effects? Where is it going? More messaging on that so people can get excited and motivated, and take ownership of what they’re going.
Bill: What is the most important question leaders should be asking employees?
Felicia: This question relates back to the listening part for me, so I think that’s the first step. I think that sometimes you don’t know where someone is. Maybe you haven’t got a good pulse check on them.
I feel that when you listen and you use that to create a relationship that is nurtured with trust, the person feels like they’re in a safe space where they can talk about their true feelings. Then that’s the point where you get a better insight into the right kinds of questions to ask. I don’t think there are any one or two specific questions that are essentially important.
I think it’s contextual and so you need a lot of input to understand what that is for that person, which means you need to spend a lot of time in the listening phase. Just let that person talk to you without trying to get an answer that you think they should be saying, or trying to fit them into a mold that doesn’t necessarily work for them.
Bill: What’s the most important question employees should be asking leaders?
Felicia: I like this question because it challenged me in a lot of ways. There are so many questions you could ask. You could ask where is the company going? What’s the vision? What are we working towards right now?
I think the number one thing that comes to me right now is that an employee should view their relationship with management as a collaboration. By that I don’t necessarily mean—I’m on the bottom, and you’re above me—but a collaboration. The reason why I’m saying that is because essentially you’re all in it together and whether that’s something that’s embodied in the company is a whole another thing.
But just taking this approach allows you to start thinking about, ok, this isn’t just about me and where I should grow and what I should be doing. It’s taking the time to have these conversations of fostering deep relationships and having conversations that are about how can we help each other grow? What are we doing? What can I do to help you that naturally allows for the other person to think, oh, what can I do to help this person?
It’s much less I’m just using my manager to get to the next level. I think it’s more of this is something much more sacred then just coming here every day and doing a task and going home. I think that’s something that’s missing. It’s about people having more heart in it and people feeling like they’re something better than we could have been on our own. I think that’s so important.
Bill: What is the most important question we can ask ourselves?
Felicia: I think this question ties back to the first question well. I think sometimes we have our values and ideas of how people should act and how they should be. Whenever I get into that place, because sometimes we all get frustrated when someone’s not acting the way that we want them to, I stop, and I ask myself, “Am I practicing the thing I want others to be?”
The answer is almost always I could always practice more. I can do it better. And if I practice it more and if I do it better then I won’t necessarily need to ask someone to do the thing I want them to do, I will be the living example. I think that’s such a huge part of how people learn because if they see that incongruence between what you say and what you do, then they won’t take anything that you say seriously even if it’s helpful.
I feel like the question here is, “Am I doing what I would want others to do?” That also opens up another question too, “Is the thing I want others to do that important?” Is it something that I should even be working on in the first place? I feel like these questions open the door for more reflection on what’s important to us.
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