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How to Not Lose Your Job When Robots Take Over – The 5 Pillars of Maintaining Humanity at Work

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Do you like apples?

It is said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. A convenient and healthy take-along snack with an edible protective wrapper that keeps the crispy, juicy, sweet, tart goodness safe inside if handled with reasonable care. You’re now probably really looking forward to that apple you brought with you for lunch today, or if you didn’t, you’re wishing you had. Nature, in all its infinite wisdom, really nailed it with apples; and not only are they a “miracle food” they are also an example of the perfect balance of vulnerability. They don’t wear their heart on their sleeve like a fully unprotected berry, but you don’t find them at the bottom of the ocean in a rock-hard shell like an oyster (maybe I should have eaten before writing this blog).

If you are more interested in robots than apples

Getting more to the point, as humans we are born vulnerable – in every sense of the meaning, and throughout life we develop significant mental and emotional defenses to protect ourselves from perceived threats.  What are these threats? In a word: judgment. Judgment by others for making mistakes, admitting failures, having an unpopular opinion, a different perspective or lifestyle, not being the smartest (or richest/funniest/most attractive/best dressed/most cultured/most important) person in the room, etc. Since we experience social pain much the same as physical pain, safeguarding ourselves from perceived social and emotional threats or attacks is seemingly just as important – if not more so – than protecting ourselves from physical attacks. So, we show no fear, hide all emotions, never ask questions, and don’t accept help. It’s exhausting, and for a long time we’ve been told (and believed it!) that work is no place to be human; just do your job. But we are not robots – they’re coming, and we’re not them.  If we want to have any future in the workforce, we better find our humanity and make it a value proposition.

“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.” — Haruki Murakami

Through study of industry leading researchers and journalists, and our own experience with global leaders and teams from various backgrounds, industries, roles, levels and functions, we have found that there is an ideal range of vulnerability required to promote strong and healthy cultures that foster high performing teams. Just like Goldilocks found in her adventure with the Three Bears, there is a happy medium. Too much vulnerability is seen as soft and weak, while too little is seen as tough and controlling (i.e. robotic). So, how much vulnerability is “just right”? These five pillars bolster effective leaders and cultures:

  • Cultivate a growth mindset– as world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, PhD writes about in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,we all have either a fixed or a growth mindset. Those with fixed mindsets believe that people are born with certain qualities, such as intelligence and talents that cannot be changed. People with growth mindsets believe that personal traits can be improved and changed over time.  This means that if you believe you were born with a certain level of intelligence and skill (fixed mindset), if you admit or demonstrate mistakes or failure, you are in fact admitting a low level of natural-born and unchangeable intelligence. This means they are less likely to try new things, take chances, or simply ask questions. Growth mindset folks, on the other hand, know that each experience is an opportunity to learn and enrich themselves and will therefore freely discuss mistakes and lessons learned, ask questions and foster a similar culture. People with growth mindsets are much more comfortable being vulnerable.
  • Embrace empathy– not to be confused with sympathy, which is feeling sorry for someone else (based on your own judgments and life experiences), empathy requires that you understand and share someone else’s feelings. The only way to do this is through human to human interactions, getting to know people as individuals, and showing care for their unique place in life. This can’t be one-sided, or it will seem suspicious and manipulative; in caring about others, you must also allow yourself to be cared about.
  • Lead with authenticity– quite simply, being the real you. Not someone who you think a leader should be, or someone who you think others will like. People want to hire, work for, and work with a real person – not a leadership persona. This of course requires the basic understanding of who you are, and how you are perceived by others, or self-awareness. The most effective ways to increase self-awareness are conscious self-observation and reflection, and regularly asking for and acting on feedback. After a recent workshop we were told by one participant that they would prefer “less reflection and “emotional” exercises.” This actually tells us they would benefit from more of the same.
  • Start early– the behaviors and beliefs that allow vulnerability to be a strength need to be fostered and reinforced early on, so it comes more natural to the next generation. Influence your kids, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, youth intramural teams, boy and girl scout troops, students, etc. to develop the valuable skills that contribute to vulnerability. And in the unlikely scenario that you have no contact with any of those groups, you can certainly have an impact on junior associates in the workplace – it’s not too late.
  • Work with an ICF Certified Coach– working with a coach will challenge you on all of the previous pillars to help you identify your true values and how your behaviors align to them. Since coaching is not a regulated profession, it is important to ensure you are trusting your growth and development to someone qualified. ICF coaches have met stringent education and experience requirements and must adhere to strict ethical guidelines. That said, we highly recommend interviewing at least three coaches to find the best fit – just like most relationships, the coach/client relationship won’t work if there is no immediate chemistry and the potential to build trust– a critical foundation of the coaching relationship.

So, there you have it, the formula for winning the war against the robots (at least in the workplace). As the great Will Hunting once said, “how do you like them apples?”

What now? 

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