Every one of us, whether we are a sibling, parent, teacher, spouse, friend, coach, teammate, boss, co-worker, mentor, or community leader has a responsibility to nurture others.
The word nurture comes from the Latin term to feed and to nourish; and in the late 18th century it was expanded to mean, “to promote and develop”.
Had the definition not changed, my Mother, who passed away in November, would not have qualified to be called a nurturer, she was a terrible cook, and thanks to my Dad’s culinary skills, my four brother’s and I did not starve.
Under the ‘new’ definition however, Mom was a remarkable nurturer of my brothers’ and countless other young people’s minds, souls, and spirits. In my eulogy to her, I tell the story of her life in the context of how wonderfully she nurtured us.
Of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, only the basic needs of physiology address the origin of the word nurture; the other three - safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization address the expanded definition “to promote and develop”. These “promote and develop” needs relate to everyone. To fully understand this, I suggest you, as I did in recognizing my mother as a nurturer, reflect on how you were nurtured, remembering that those you have any responsibility for need to be nurtured, too.
Much of what you do to nurture the “promote and develop” needs of others require human interactions. Unfortunately for a variety of reasons, this is outside of most people’s comfort zones.
We are living in an age where technology has changed the way we live, learn, work, play and even worship. There is no question that advance of technology has many positive aspects. However, what overshadows the positives is the diminishment of the human element, particularly as it pertains to people’s ability to and comfort in having civil critical discussions.
When we add to this the command and control approach embraced by people in leadership positions, people who need to have the “promote and develop” nourishment are left to starve.
In a recent Mental Health America survey, sponsored by the Faas Foundation, called Mind the Workplace, we found that two thirds of North American workers cannot rely on their supervisors for support when things go wrong. Furthermore, almost the same numbers of people have the same feelings about their co-workers. A recent USA Today survey found that 80 percent of employees, including managers feel they could do their jobs without managers. Given that the primary role of a manager is to nurture, these statistics speak volumes about the lack of nurturing occurring in the boss/subordinate relationship.
J.R.D. Tada addresses this when he wrote, “No institute of science and technology can guarantee discoveries or inventions, and we cannot plan or command a work of genius at will. But do we give sufficient thought to the nurture of the young investigator, to providing the right atmosphere and conditions of work and full opportunity for development? It is these things that foster invention and discovery.”
The research I conducted for my book, ‘From Bully to Bull’s Eye - Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire’, indicates that for most people, the only communication that occurs between a manager and subordinate is the dreaded annual or semi-annual review, or when things go south. This dynamic is not exactly nourishing, nor does it encourage psychologically safe workplaces.
As an expert in organizational dynamics, I can assert what is being fed to these people is more poisonous and toxic than nurturing, which kills the motivation for development and aspirations. What it also kills is the motivation to nurture others - kind of an ethic of reciprocity in reverse.
The Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence, in a survey of 20,000 high school students, found that 70 percent of the respondents were tired, bored and stressed. Doing a deep dive on this, they found that the main reason for this was standardized testing. At some point in time, the curriculum has shifted to the extent that proportionately more time is spent teaching kids how to pass tests than teaching them how to learn, leaving these students starving for their “promote and develop” needs. In the words of Dolly Levi to her suitor Horace Vandergelder in ‘Hello Dolly’, “Money is like manure, you have to spread it around to make young things grow.”
Here are some tips on how to nurture:
. Understand your “promote and develop” needs. This understanding of your sense of self, positions you to understanding the needs of others. Also this will give rise to nurture yourself.
. Reflect on how your “promote and develop” needs were nurtured by others. These examples will help you apply with others.
. Understand how people you have a responsibility for feel (and why they feel the way they do). What makes them - happy, sad, angry, frustrated, fulfilled, motivated, depressed, anxious, satisfied etc. What you will likely find is these emotions will reconcile with yours.
. Teach rather than lecture.
. Other than sending information, communicate person-to-person, ideally face-to-face.
. Make those you nurture comfortable in having critical discussions, reinforcing ‘it’s ok to disagree’.
. Be open, honest and direct in your communications.
. Be empathetic.
. Practice active listening.
. Allow those you nurture to nurture you.
Andrew Faas is the author of ‘From Bully to Bull’s Eye - Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire’, and is a Public Voices Fellow at Yale University.
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