When I walk in the New England woods, I am never alone. It’s not because there are a lot of people. Often, I see no one. It’s because of the stone walls.
The walls conjure images from the past. I picture farmers pulling crooked carrots from rocky soil, brave pioneers fighting for their lives, tough women caring for babies in circumstances impossible to comprehend. I see rugged individuals and ingenious problem solvers.
I also see conquerors, heartless racists intent on destroying the native population, and people with no respect for the land.
My mind flips back-and-forth from one interpretation to the other. Neither is right or wrong. The early settlers were all of the above. And none of the above. They were people of their own time. Of their own circumstances. A combination of good and bad. Aware and unaware of their impact. Much more complex than labels allow. Just like each of us. Just like all your employees.
Look anew at your employees. Visualize their complexity. Encourage the pioneer within, the rugged individual, the persistent problem solver. Swear off the labels that injure and squelch. Increase awareness with open, honest curiosity and conversation.