Mamamia recently published an article written by Rebecca Sparrow titled ‘The 4 letter word every woman needs to stop using. And its not what you think.’ The word in questions is ‘Just’. While I agree with the point Rebecca makes I don’t believe it’s a uniquely female challenge. Reading the article I was taken back to a training workshop I facilitated last week during which I shared my observation that too often people diminish their own role or achievements through the use of the word ‘just’.
It saddens me how often when I ask the question “what do you do?” and people respond with “I’m just a ….”. Often their comments are accompanied by visible discomfort and apologetic body language. Contemplate for a moment how often you observe others react this way. Reflect also on how often you don’t feel good enough or fail to have (let alone show) pride in the role you play.
A common example is the fulltime parent who reveals their feelings of inadequacy by responding with “I’m just a Mum/Dad”. Few jobs are more important than raising children and yet I witness this often when talking to other parents at school. My husband Kevin has spent the last 16 years working as our family’s Director of Domestic Affairs. There is no question he has contributed every bit as much to our family’s success as I have by earning an income.
It’s equally common for me to hear people say “I’m just a receptionist”, “I’m just an assistant”, “I’m just a sales guy”, “I just work in the factory”, “I’m just a cleaner” and so the list goes on and on. I think it’s likely that many people feel this way because of their perceptions of what defines success in our society. It seems that many people associate success with the level of their income and position on the supposed “hierarchy of life”.
Can you imagine the horrendous state our world would be in if no one collected garbage? What about a world where no one cleaned our offices, streets, shopping complexes and the many other facilities we use and rely on? Think about how little executives could achieve if they didn’t have team members answering customer phone calls, managing information by filing or scanning documents, entering data into systems, coordinating meetings – and again so the list goes on.
Every role every person plays makes a difference in one way or another. In the world of business we all need to appreciate that a bigger pay cheque, bigger office or bigger job title doesn’t necessarily mean we are better or more important than the next person. Of course the contributions of leaders and other so called ‘senior people’ matter to success; but so too do the roles played by every member of a team.
I’m tired of people feeling inadequate and I’m tired of those who contribute to them feeling that way. As I’ve shared in many blogs before, yes we have the power to choose how we feel, but that can be awfully hard when people around us fail to show respect. We all need to do our part to help people feel the sense of personal value they deserve.
Notice what people do and show them you appreciate what they contribute. Encourage those who undervalue their own role to have self-respect and appreciate the value that they add. In my second book The People Managers Toolkit, I share that as a leader it’s critical that your approach to managing performance helps people understand and take pride in the role the play in creating the success of your team and business.