What you are at work goes back to your childhood, Philly exec says

Breathe in, breathe out.

Now slowly open your eyes and read about how Susan Sweeney, president of GGB Bearing Technology, a 1,200-employee global company headquartered in Thorofare thinks that mediation and self-awareness has helped her company. (They also have book clubs to build relationships among departments.)

But before we get there, let me give you a few random quotes from out interview (published in the business section of Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer) to set the stage:

“We do a lot of work on mindsets and behaviors and self-awareness — understanding the energy that you bring to a room, and how you’re behaving.  Is everyone in the room equally contributing, or is there someone that’s super quiet, not participating, and why is that.  Usually, we would ask them.  Or, is someone dominating the conversation? We might call [that] out and say, `Perhaps you want to give someone else the opportunity to put their voice in the room, because you seem to be taking up a lot of air time.'”

Wow, that’s pretty straight forward for a business meeting!

Well, it’s true, right?  Usually, the people that aren’t talking have ideas.  They just need to feel comfortable to bring them out.  Some of the things we’ve learned as leaders is to be the facilitator of asking those people that aren’t talking what they have to say or what would they like to contribute.

What if they don’t have any ideas, and they’re just sitting there?

It’s fine, but they might want to say, `Hey, I’m just listening,’ because of whatever it is that’s going through their head. But at least they’re their voice in the room, because to form the community, and we have a lot of discussions about community building and how do we connect.  That’s what it’s about, right?  How do you connect and work with the team that you’re with at that moment to put your best self in the situation?

The other thing is I have a strong belief in this: Leaders should teach.

And just for our readers, I want to point out that Susan Sweeney has a doctorate in organizational dynamics.

A couple of weeks ago I went to France and I helped facilitate 25 people from Europe.  We did what’s called a transformational change class.  We have people self-evaluate.  They fill out a little survey about themselves, so you can’t blame other people for feedback.  You kind of determine what is your profile in terms of self-actualization.  At least in our business, we’ve got the basic needs covered, in terms of shelter and food and all those things. The self-actualization part: where are you in that work and where do you need to work.  We also define: Are you affiliative? Are you looking for power? Are you looking for authority? What is it that you’re looking for — because we all have three basic fears:  Fear of not being loved, not being safe, not being worthy.  That’s really where it all comes down to.  All the science will tell you that.  All the psychology will tell you that.

Does not being worthy have to do with not being loved?

It could be.  Yeah, unworthy, unloved, unsafe.  Those are kind of the drivers. You can work with people to figure out what is their fears are based on. For most people, it goes back to before you were probably 10 or 12 years old.  Maybe it’s a particular incident.  Maybe it’s just the situation.  You can have the most perfect childhood and you’re still going to have some things that form who you are and what you’re fearful of, right?  So, if you always have to be in control, is it a fear of failure?  If you’re always in control, you’ll be able to control the situation.  Well, that might be true, but you’re probably limiting yourself and a whole lot of other people.  So, what happens if you fail?  You might learn something.  When we’re most uncomfortable, and when we fail, it’s usually our most important life lessons.  As long as you’re not hurting someone and you’re not going to sink the business, it’s okay.  It really is.

Then, I asked her the obvious, cynical question: Do you think all this stuff really makes a difference in your company? How about right there in Thorofare, 280 employees, in semi-rural Gloucester County?

Sweeney talked about a recent union negotiation that went very smoothly. “So now we know we’ve got a team that we value and they’re all in.” But, she said, she thinks the approach empowers people to think above their pay grade and outside their usual lines of responsibility.

NEXT: How that kind of empowered thinking saved GGB and its employees a lot of money and hassle.