Helena Clayton | ‘I matter’



‘I matter’

03 Oct 2021, Posted by Helena Clayton in Monthly Blog

My work is all with people. Up close and mostly personal.

And you know what’s coming.  I see many people on the edge of burnout and overwhelm, not least through over-attending to the demands and needs of their job and families.

At a more macro level, I’m working with a global organisation where the exit interviews repeatedly give truth to the adage that ‘people join organisations but leave managers’.  The themes across these conversations is that ‘no one is taking much of an interest in me and what I’m about’.  And ‘no-one cares much about my hopes and aspirations, what brings me alive, and what brings out the best in me’.

‘What about me?’

Underpinning this is a sense from people: of ‘where am I in all of this? What about my needs and what I want for myself?  Who’s looking out for me?’

And that’s a tricky one because the pressure is so strong to show up as: ‘busy, but all good, thanks’ and ‘living my best life’.

I notice in myself when I think ‘but who’s looking after me?’ I seem to say it in a thin and pleading voice that feels needy and a bit pathetic.  And I almost never say it out loud. A part of me fears I’ll be judged as weak and not able to cope. As selfish.  I know I can be unkind to the parts of me that are struggling, or have needs.  There’s a part of me that thinks I shouldn’t have any at all and that I have no right to ask for anything from others when my life is clearly so privileged and others need support. And there’s another fear – that if I ask for what I want or need, I won’t get that need met, and the prospect of taking the risk to be vulnerable and then to have to deal with the disappointment of not getting what I asked for can feel really painful.

So this is delicate territory.  It’s certainly not easy to ask for what we want or need. If anyone knows Robert Kegan’s work on our ‘immunity to change’, it’s clear that while I have a commitment to asking for what I need, I also have a competing commitment to look strong and capable in other people eyes. Complex business, this human business!

And writing this reminded me of a few things:

  • a senior male colleague. When he told me what he was struggling with and I asked him what he needed, he went silent and I realised he was tearful as he said ‘no-one ever asks me that’.
  • a group I was working with on a Self Care session who associated self care with self indulgence.
  • how people feel when they experience being listened to without interruption.  Some people say they have never been paid attention to like that in their entire lives.  They can feel sad at that realisation.
  • in coaching, when I ask people ‘and what do you need’, it’s often so very difficult for them to know and then to articulate it as they are unused to putting their needs front and centre and asking for what they want.

It seems like people feel they don’t matter (enough).

You matter

As a coach, this feeling of ‘you matter’ has to be there.  Part of my role is to give people my complete attention.  For 90 mins to make them the compete focus. To be very interested in what they say, and what’s behind and in between their words. To ask them to say more.  Reflect back what I’m hearing.  Support and affirm them in the qualities I see in them. Gently challenge them and care enough to help them see what they might be missing.  They should be in no doubt that they –  and what they think and feel, matters very much.

And there’s an equivalent responsibility for a manager or leader too, right?  To convey to someone that who they are as a person matters here, in this team, in this organisation, to this particular piece of work … You matter in this organisation and you matter to the work. You matter to me.  You matter in the world. You matter to the people around you. Your thoughts, feelings and opinions matter.  This is as important as the value they create for the business or for the results they produce, if not more so.  For us to feel seen, to ‘feel ‘got’ in our workplaces.  To have our contributions and our presence valued and affirmed. This an essential role of managers and leaders. At the heart of good leadership (and manager-ship and colleague-ship and also good neighbour-ship and friendship) is the vital importance of conveying: ‘you matter’.

And in organisations, surely feeling we matter means:

  • we’re likely to be a braver, more confident, more generous version of our self.
  • we will pass that on and help colleagues feel the same through kind and inclusive behaviours.
  • it helps us know our work matters too,  and so we’re likely to take more pride in it and so the quality is better.

Leadership culture

How do we create a culture where people can feel with confidence: ‘I matter’?  Where managers and leaders convey convincingly to their people: ‘you matter’.

We do that through putting the human front and centre of our leadership.

‘If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together’.  You know that African proverb, right? We need other people to help us travel on our journey.  And people will willingly travel with us when they feel they matter.

When good leaders are able to ‘engage hearts and minds’ (as the leadership mantra goes) I imagine it’s because they help people see that they really do matter.

In practice

My research (you can download the report here) has shown that people consider listening to be a deeply loving act and at the heart of human leadership.  Nothing says ‘you matter’ more than this. So be curious. Be interested.  And listen.

In practice, I’ve seen several things make a big difference:

  • asking people their opinion – in meetings and outside – and encouraging a culture where people speak up and speak out about what they think and feel.
  • not shaming or criticising people when they have the courage to be honest
  • when people have the courage to speak, we put everything (everything) aside and give them our full attention.
  • when someone speaks, don’t say a flippin’ word about yourself.  Make the next thing that comes out of your mouth something about them.  If that’s too difficult, just say some version of: ‘go on, tell me more about that’.
  • spend time understanding what people are grappling with in their wider lives because having a fuller picture helps us know the fulness of who they are
  • tracking the amount of time we’re on transmit and how much we are asking, inquiring and framing our questions out of genuine curiosity.
  • taking the time to ‘check in’ and talk about how we’re each doing, before diving into the content of a meeting. ‘Connection before content’, as my colleague Martin says.
  • creating structures, spaces and opportunities (like Listening Circles) to gather and talk and cross pollinate and network and build communities and connections.

And if you’re feeling really courageous, take the direct approach and ask people: ‘do you feel you matter here?’ and ‘what could I do to make sure you really know that you DO matter?’

When someone asked him how they could make time for meditation when they were so busy, the Dalai Lama was reported to have said: ‘the busier I am, the more I meditate’.  For organisational life, it seems like we should be saying: ‘the busier we are, the more we have to set aside time to listen to people’.

Through the pandemic, many people have woken up to what matters to them.

And our role in organisations is to make sure people know that they matter to us.

Try this.

Go somewhere private.  Try saying ‘I matter’ out loud to yourself right now.  ‘I matter’.  Try it a few times. Loudly.  Now try it quietly. What about when you try ‘I matter in my organisation’.  Or ‘I matter to my manager’.  Try out a variety of versions.

How does it feel?  What comes up for you?  What do you notice in your body?  When/where does it feel true? And where does it feel untrue?  What’s that telling you?

What do you need more of/less of in your life to increase the feelings that you matter here?

What about if I asked your team ‘does your manager make you feel you matter’?  What do you imagine they might say?  And what might you start to do to help more people say that with confidence?



For work with the various ‘parts’ of yourself, you could take a look at Focusing, a really great way to get to know your inner world a lot better.  Ana Rudd, a friend of mine who’s a practitioner puts it this way: ‘you approach parts of yourself that may or may not be known or familiar to you.  You learn to see them, to acknowledge their presence and give them space to be and develop’.  And here’s where you can find more about Eugene Gendlin, the founder of this work.

For creating organisations that feel safe, the go-to work is probably Amy Edmondson on psychological safety.

And for helping employees find their voice, the most leading edge work is on ‘employee activism’ being done by Megan Reitz and John Higgins and you can download their research here.







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