Non-Profit Leadership: How to Shift Perspectives

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I make it a habit to tour around my organization and departments as often as I can. As I enter offices and check-in with staff one of the realities that I have observed is the wide range of emotions and perspectives they may have on any given day. Their emotions can range from very happy and satisfied to completely devastated by whatever is going on in their life, their job or something related to their relationships or circumstances.

In such moments it is important to understand what may be behind these emotions. In a previous post I spoke about the idea of H.U.G. (hearing, understanding and giving back). This skill allows a leader to grasp what is behind some of the emotions you encounter. Particularly when staff members are struggling with relationships, job performance or frustrations that are not going well, it can give them a strong sense of not being good enough. Sometimes they feel they should not be sharing it with you as their leader and other times they do not want to be a burden to anyone else. These are significant moments where a leader can have a significant impact.

This is rather difficult to explain but in moments like I have just described I find it both helpful and hopeful as a leader to be able to help them shift perspective. I mentioned in previous posts that leaders should be mindful, compassionate and hopeful. In these situations we need to call on all three of those characteristics to listen, empathize and put the future in a positive perspective. I’ve found that when individuals feel very triggered and/or trapped by their life circumstances it is so helpful to have a genuine and caring voice to help them with their outlook and world life view.

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For me it has been very helpful to know about trauma and how the brain works. Not every situation is a situation that pertains to trauma but a good neurological understanding of how individuals arrive at their perspectives due to different life events that impacted them is extremely helpful. A deeper understanding of how individuals react to stress is crucial to helping them shift their perspective. Leaders who are sensitive and aware of someone’s personal history and process are better able to help them transition to a new outlook. We are careful not to judge, solve or rescue but to give a perspective that shows a level of understanding and mindfulness. For many individuals this is uplifting and affirming to be heard and understood at that level. This is not therapy but simply is a listening posture that is both affirming and hopeful.

I must also say that leaders need to be self-aware and regulated when you have these encounters and discussions. We as leaders need to be very clear, calm and cognitive in these moments which means we have to check our own perspective before trying to help others shift theirs. One great gift we can give to our staff is to help them work through these interesting life moments that are common to us all. How great is it when a leader can help you move from a difficult set of feelings and bring you to a place of calm, focus and a better life outlook! It is a positive way to keep morale high and help staff to be emotionally and relationally balanced and healthy.

Gerry Vassar


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