I highly recommend seeing The Blind Side, a movie about Baltimore Ravens’ offensive tackle, Michael Oher. It’s worth the price of the ticket alone to see Sandra Bullock’s tour-de-force performance as Michael’s adoptive mom, Leanne Tuohy. What I especially like about the movie is that it shows how the right social environment helps people thrive in life.
I don’t want to give away the story so let me just say in a nutshell that it was Leanne Tuohy who reached out to Michael. It would have been easy for her to ignore him, but she didn’t. Instead, Leanne felt compassion for a young man who was wearing shorts in the winter and hanging around a high school gym just to stay warm. She took the time to get to know him and his life’s story. While others saw him as “Big Mike,” a quiet, giant, African-American young man from the Memphis ghetto, Leanne Tuohy saw him as a thoughtful boy with a big heart and protective instincts to match. She called him “Michael,” a name he much preferred to “Big Mike.” Leanne’s insights helped Michael discover who he really was deep down inside and who he could become. These insights helped Michael see himself as a protector who “has the back” of his family and those he loves. It should come as no surprise then to learn that Michael Oher thrived in football as an offensive tackle responsible for protecting his teammates from the defense.
The Blind Side shows how the social environment we live in shapes us for good or ill. Research in social psychology and neuroscience have proven this. To learn more, check out this article from the Atlantic magazine entitled “The Science of Success.” For those who want to dig even deeper into the effects of social environment on people (and especially on the young), I highly recommend watching the video presentation and purchasing the Hardwired to Connect research report based on a research study by Dartmouth Medical School, the YMCA and the Institute for American Values. In addition, I recently did a free webcast for ASTD on neuroscience and its implications for leadership that you can download by clicking here.
The social environment we live in at work affects us too. Is your work environment helping you thrive or killing you? I wrote the book Fired Up or Burned Out to help people understand how important the social environment at work is to employer brand, employee engagement, productivity, innovation and ultimately the performance of individuals and organizations. If your social environment at work is toxic or even indifferent to people, you can do something about it. A good first step is to read the manifesto I worte for ChangeThis.com. You can find it and download it free along with other articles, podcasts and webcasts, by clicking here: The Connection Culture: A New Source of Competitive Advantage. To go even deeper, read Fired Up or Burned Out and share it with your colleagues, family and friends. If you are in a country where it is impossible to purchase the book because the values it promotes are threatening to those in power, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email you a free pdf version of the book. Recently, I’ve received requests from individuals in nations with oppressive governments and I’m delighted to share the book with people who are trying to improve the social, political and economic environments of their home countries.
When leaders create a healthy social environment, it helps protect them from their blind side which is often the morale of the people they lead and what’s really happening in the organization (or nation). Absent a healthy social environment, nations and organizations inevitably fail when the vast majority of people who feel disconnected lose hope in their leaders and the future. A healthy social environment, what I call a “Connection Culture,” keeps everyone feeling connected and like they are part of the group so that all thrive.