Ubuntu is an African teaching that loosely translates “I am because we are.” Desmond Tutu describes this teaching as, “I am a person through other persons.” We exist in the world as we are because of our relation to those around us. We belong to a greater whole, a community, and through this community we are able to thrive individually.
On a practical level, ubuntu means that we are open and available to others, affirming of others, and not threatened that others are capable and can do good. It means that we are just as committed to the success of others as we are our own, because their success is our success and I exist through the humanity of others.
Open and Available
Do your coworkers, students, family members, friends know that you are open and available to them? Here are some thoughts about how you might make yourself open and available:
- When someone is speaking to you, put down your phone, step away from your computer, or put aside anything else you might be focusing on.
- Offer help and support often.
- Make the physical space around you open and inviting. Open the door, move furniture around so there is conversation space, or light the space if possible.
- Acknowledge others. Even the act of saying hello or nodding indicated that you are open to engaging with another.
Tell people when they do things well! Give ample (and true) compliments. Remind others of their strengths. Here are some tools to put this into practice:
- Keep a running list of positive things you’ve noticed about others over the week and send a quick note telling them at the end of the week.
- Do “popcorn” appreciations in staff meetings. These appreciations are short 30-seconds acknowledgements of good work that people have seen others do.
- If you struggle with identifying strengths, use Gallup’s StrengthsFinder framework as a starting point.
When others succeed, do you view their progress as a threat to your own? The spirit of competitiveness tears down teams and resilience. Here are some tips to help change your view:
- When others do well, ask: What can I learn from them or what they did?
- Count team successes as personal successes, and vice versa. Remember, in a team everyone is working toward the same goal!
- Constantly look for growth opportunities. Achievements are never perfect, whether they are ours or others’. Think about every success as another building block upon which your team will continue to build as you innovate and improve.