I recently got to reunite with some former colleagues all at once. They were a great group when we worked together, but I hadn’t seen them (and vice versa) in a while.
We caught up for probably about 45 minutes, of which at least 44 were devoted entirely to personal matters—spouses, kids, vacations, random observations of the universe. (True example: “Shouldn’t Space Force camouflage be black? There’s no foliage in space.”) Almost none of it was about reminiscing, either. It was just people who cared about each other as human beings talking to each other as human beings.
There’s something reassuring in that.
Part of the role of leaders—in my mind, a badly underrated part of the role—is setting a climate. Positive workplace climates don’t just happen. They’re cumulative results of paying attention to the right things over time. For leaders, sometimes that involves self-control. In my own case, for instance, I sometimes forget to sign paperwork. But I know that about myself, so I gave my assistant the following direction: “No matter what face I make at the time, remind me when something needs to be signed. I promise not to hold it against you.” She took me at my word and discovered that it was true. Over time, it became a bit of a running joke. Things got signed on time, she felt safe in saying what needed to be said and I aimed my frustration at myself for forgetting in the first place.
When I started one job years ago, I heard from several sources that one of my predecessors used to park in handicapped spaces when she was pressed for time. It may have only happened a couple of times, but people noticed, and they drew conclusions from it. They still talked about it years later, and always disapprovingly. There’s a sense of fairness that transcends your place in the organization. Respecting that sense of fairness goes a long way. In a sense, so does disrespecting it.
When I see former colleagues and we just immediately reconnect as people, I know something went right. I don’t often see “establish a positive working climate” as a goal in job ads, but it’s a skill, and a relatively rare one. If it isn’t in ads, it should be.