Constantly encouraging people to be a total DIVA in a notoriously conservative legal profession has led to some interesting memories this year. Let me explain.
Being a lawyer can be hugely rewarding, but it can also be extremely stressful. As we enter a new decade, we should be proud of the progress we have collectively made to bring more focus to our wellbeing. We have a stronger focus on physical, occupational, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual wellness than we ever have.
In my wellbeing consulting work, clients often ask me how to start an initiative, or plan an affinity group for physical wellbeing or mental health. These efforts are awesome, but here’s the thing: these spurts of action likely won’t have a lasting impact. What we really need is a seismic culture shift regarding wellbeing, and that won’t happen until we invite the topic of being a DIVA into the wellbeing conversation: Diversity, Inclusion, Vulnerability and Appreciation.
Promoting and achieving diversity in the legal profession has often been an uphill battle, despite our often sincere and repeated efforts. Effective law firm and corporate leaders understand the strong moral and business cases for promoting diversity. Not only is it the right thing to do, diversity in thought leads to innovation and competitive advantages.
From a wellbeing standpoint, diversity is equally important. When law firms attract, nurture and retain diverse talent, we help diverse talent ascend to positions of leadership. Diverse leadership then attracts new diverse talent. This cycle improves the entire culture and our physical and emotional response to it. For example, seeing a lawyer mom in a leadership role may instill peace of mind for a new lawyer mom associate: she may start to see that diversity isn’t just for recruitment sake; it’s for retention sake.
Sports analogy: Pretend I’m a good basketball player. (To my friends reading this: stop laughing). Diversity is letting me play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Wellbeing impact: Mild. I’m playing the game. This helps my occupational wellbeing, as I’m now cultivating some growth and enrichment in my chosen calling.
Inclusion is not a natural consequence of diversity. A law firm can dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into a diversity recruitment effort without improving the working atmosphere at all: the end result could just be a higher volume of people suffering the same injustices. This is where inclusion comes in: inclusion is when diverse people are valued for who they are and what they bring to the table.
Sports analogy: Inclusion is Lebron passing me the ball on an important play. Now I’m not just on the team, I’m a part of it.
Wellbeing impact: Moderate. Being included really amps up my intellectual wellbeing. I’m being tasked to help my teammates, so I’m engaging in continuous learning, strategizing and pursuit of challenging activities (like making the playoffs again one day) that foster my overall development.
Most law firms hit the brakes after the inclusion piece and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. That’s usually when I yell out “Hey, if you want to be memorable, you need to be a total DIVA at work!”
Being vulnerable can be challenging, especially in a profession that traditionally encourages exploiting vulnerabilities, not sharing them . But it’s a risk we need to take if we want to experience connection, which is more than a luxury: it’s a critical piece to our wellbeing puzzle.
Loneliness and lack of meaningful connection is quite literally killing us. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reports that loneliness rivals both smoking and obesity as our biggest health risks. The key to connecting on a real level? Being seen and heard for who we really are.
Merely including people at work seems to be enough, but it isn’t. We need to take that next step and connect. As a leader, you need to speak to your lawyers, and listen when they speak back. Memorable leaders know their lawyers intimately, whether it’s their capabilities, their personal histories, or what sports teams they are passionate about. (Lebron, I don’t care if you’re on the Lakers now: call me!)
We have to reacquaint ourselves with our lawyers after hiring them. Leadership must ask itself: who is the whole person behind the briefs and client files?
Sports analogy: Connection through vulnerability is when basketball season ends and Lebron invites me, along with the rest of the team, to a backyard BBQ. While we’re there, I share a hurtful comment a journalist wrote about me. I talk about how it made me feel and how these comments bother me despite my best efforts to brush them off. A real conversation ensues. I learn about who my teammates really are, not just as players but as husbands, fathers, activists and friends.
Wellbeing impact: High. My social wellbeing goes through the roof at this point, because I am connecting with others in a well developed network. I am part of a group, and feel a real sense of community. I no longer seek a work/life balance. I now know that a work/life integration is even better. I don’t need to draw a black and white line where work lives in one box and “life” lives in another. It’s perfectly fine that people from work merge with people from home: they are all people that I want to be around.
We’ve now reached the final stage of being a total DIVA: appreciation. Appreciation at work is the simplest to implement, but often the most overlooked. Showing consideration and concern for others is appreciation.
Showing a bit of gratitude can go a really long way. One of the easiest ways to show appreciation is to let people you know you notice their efforts. Did someone offer a great solution at work? Tell them.
About a month ago, a working mother approached me as I was leaving their law firm and told me that the single biggest contributor to her happiness at work was when a co-worker said two words in response to her efforts: “thank you.” Think about just how easy and how human those two simple words can be.
Sports analogy: Appreciation is when Lebron comes up to me at his summer bbq and says “Hey Anj, I’m so glad you and your family could make it today. It was great spending time with you. ” It’s that simple.
Wellbeing impact: Very high. Appreciation improves your emotional, spiritual and even physical wellbeing. Appreciation enhances your sense of purpose: you feel like you matter, because you do.
In many instances, we spend almost as much time working as we do in our personal lives, sometimes more. The best workplace teams contribute to building a system that utilizes each person’s assets for the betterment of the firm. They build powerful growth strategies through inclusion. respecting individuality and fostering kindness.
As the legal profession continues its journey towards improving its overall wellbeing, let’s be sure that we remember one motto: try to be a total DIVA each and every day. Our wellbeing depends on it.