Whose Gifts Are Going Unnoticed?

I’ve had many requests to write about bullying on my blog about the intersection of leadership and parenting. It’s a complicated, important topic. Previously, I wrote about how advice from a teenage bullying expert could be applied to the workplace. Now, I’m exploring one teacher’s brilliant strategy to stop bullying and how to apply it to leadership. Get this: her strategy could even help the tech industry and its caboodle of diversity problems.

Ever since the Columbine massacre, there is a teacher who sets aside time each week to look for the kids who are being bullied and are afraid to speak up. And she finds them. Here’s how:

School girl looking at her paper with hands holding her head“Every Friday afternoon, she asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student who they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, she takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her, and studies them. She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?
Who can’t think of anyone to request?
Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?
Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, this teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” This teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down—right away—who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.”

Excerpt from Reader’s Digest June 2014

You know those peer-nominated “employee of the month” awards? They sound a lot like this teacher’s request for “exceptional classroom citizens.”

Yet, I wonder how many managers review the submissions for their awards programs through the lens of bullying. Does anyone look for the employees whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers? Or pay attention to how many minorities are being nominated?

I know I never did. I used to run such an award for my department of over a hundred people. I loved reading the submissions and getting to know my employees better. But, not once did I think about the people who were not being nominated any why this might be the case.

Was there bullying going on in my department? I hope not. Could I have looked for patterns in the submissions to get ahead of any bullying? Or to build more engagement with employees who felt excluded from the department? I wish I had.

Most importantly, I’m asking myself if I could have used this teacher’s approach to help combat diversity issues. The software company I worked for at the time was not unlike the rest of the tech industry: the percentage of women shrank as you moved up through the org chart. If a woman were to go unnoticed in an employee of the month program, would she go unnoticed in other ways as well? Perhaps for a choice assignment that could lead to a promotion? Or an invitation to an event filled with influential people?

To all the leaders out there, I encourage you to use this teacher’s brilliant approach to get ahead of any workplace discrimination that might be going on in your organization. Look for the employees whose gifts are going unnoticed. Then do the right thing.


Thanks to Elaine Finnell (@elainefinnell) for recommending the Reader’s Digest article.

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Whose Gifts Are Going Unnoticed?

  1. I made a habit for about 10 years writing a nice thank you when a colleague does an exceptional job to their manager without being asked when I am not in their immediate group, working for the same boss, etc. I figure that after all, employee reviews are a game especially among peers. I noticed a lot of times people do not want to promote their “competitor”, or a more junior member who may be performing on par with a senior person, etc. Life is sometimes tricky as much as a Donald Trump show ;). So, I became writing them for people who were not in my group, whom I will never be asked to review directly. In my opinion, they were the act of true appreciation as they were always given without a political interest.

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