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the top tens

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When we look forward to getting to work, we are likely to do good work. When we are disengaged, negative feelings can suck the energy out of an office environment in no time. Here are ten ways we can all be leaders in developing a healthy eco-system in our working environment.

1. Smile. Songwriter Nancy White calls Toronto, 'The City of the Averted Eye.' Don't avert. The next time you catch the eye of a co-worker send back a warm smile. You'll be astonished by the response. As Mother Teresa said: "We'll never know the good that a simple smile can do".

2. We do our most creative work when we feel safe enough to take some chances. Dr. Charles Limb at Johns Hopkins Medical School put jazz musicians through an MRI and found that the part of the brain responsible for self-censorship and judgment is inactive when musicians are improvising. We're more likely to come up with a new riff on any old idea when we're not in a risk-averse environment.

3. Encourage a 'yes/and' environment – a collaborative work place where we all support each other. Too often we feel compelled to show our 'smarts' by pointing out what's wrong with a suggestion. In a 'yes/but' environment, we only hear why an idea won't work. If all we hear are negatives, forward movement becomes difficult.

4. Ensure that top-down communication makes it clear to everyone what is expected of them – and what their roles are in the context of the organization's values and direction. Unclear communication generates misunderstanding and conflict that can easily be avoided. Some of the worst communications catastrophes have come from vaguely stated expectations from the top. When Henry II uttered: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest", Beckett met his demise post haste. Unfortunately, Henry didn't really mean to have him killed!

5. Train people in communication and listening skills that build relationships and respect. This is an invaluable investment, given the countless hours lost in every work environment as a result of sometimes unintended, insensitive communication and disrespect.

6. Give feedback wherever possible. All of us need to be acknowledged more than we care to admit. Studies have shown that a majority of us would prefer critical feedback to no feedback. At least if it's clear how we can do better, steps can be taken to improve. A small, but specific observation, goes a long way towards boosting a person's morale, and fostering engagement. One CEO I know keeps an ancient typewriter on his desk. Every time he learns of an employee achievement, he'll dash off a note and have it delivered immediately.

7. Reward and encourage teamwork. It's not enough to praise only the leader of a successful team. Spread it around. A productive and healthy environment is one in which people feel safe enough to rely on each other.

8. Hey, we're all human, subject to imperfections. We perform better when no one feels a need to pretend to be someone they're not. Authenticity engenders trust. We are more likely to follow leaders and support colleagues who feel real to us.

9. Question your assumptions and encourage your colleagues to question theirs. How often do we get into trouble because we've made an incorrect assumption - often about the people with whom we work? Rather than an internal dialogue of: "He looked at me funny. He must be mad at me. I could lose my job" – consider the possibility that: "He looked at me funny. He might just be having a bad day. I hope he feels better tomorrow." If in doubt, ask.

10. Make opportunities for your team to come together as people, not just as functionaries doing their assigned jobs. We all crave human connection. Does your workspace have a common room, a kitchen, a spot where people can interact in a personal way, even for a few minutes during the day? Even, one of these days, out-doors…

We are all human beings with our vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses. When we notice and appreciate others, we create a constructive, congenial work environment that brings out the very best in everyone. Each of us can be a leader in the workplace by taking initiative to draw out the humanity in co-workers. Small changes that require very little investment can make a huge difference. It really takes very few steps to create an engaging and productive environment where people love to come to work.

Lola Rasminsky, C.M., is the founder of Beyond the Box, which delivers teambuilding and leadership training workshops across Canada.

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