Every voice should be heard

“The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except for the best.”, Hope Will Find You: My Search for the Wisdom to Stop Waiting and Start Living, Naomi Levy

I was recently on vacation in Italy with my husband Michael and his siblings. Michael and I love Italy, particularly Tuscany in the north, and each time we go we enjoy it a little bit more. Its charms sneak up on you as you discover a new vista, small hilltop village, little restaurant, or ice cream place. (Better known as gelato in Italy, or as I call it: heaven in a cup!)

When I am somewhere this magical, I like to read something a little different that is more oriented towards self-improvement. I don’t try to master a new skill, but I am inspired to diverge from what I would characterize as my normal reading: “work, plane or trying to fall asleep” reading. Even better, I like to read about other people’s journeys of transformation, which is what Rabbi Levy’s Hope Will Find You is about.

But, this blog is not about her amazing book, which I highly recommend, but rather to reflect on the quote:

“The woods would be very silent if no birds sang expect for the best.”

This quote struck me. I started thinking about its implications, and I as often do, how it related to my work. I was intrigued as to why this quote made such an impression on me, as there are many insightful passages in Levy’s book. And then I realized, it had an impact because it connected with one of my core values about what I believe it takes to be a great leader: every voice, regardless of whose it is, should be heard. It’s easy to be happy at work when you work for a great leader.

Especially at work, I think we get intimidated to speak up unless we think what we’re about to say is “the best.” I’m not sure what it is that keeps us silent: fear, effort, the risk of looking stupid or just laziness and lethargy. But, I find myself in more and more meetings where people are silent and I think this is a tragedy. As a skilled facilitator I can overcome this: I call on people and ask for their comments. But, I can’t help think about this quote—think of how silent the world would be if only the best birds sang.

Aren’t you happier at work when you know your voice is being heard? If you were a little bird in the woods, wouldn’t you sing? It wouldn’t matter if you were the best singing bird in the woods, you would sing away. I would offer that speaking up at work, instead of taking the easy path of remaining silent, would give you more satisfaction than sitting in the audience waiting for the Lady GaGa of birds to launch into song.

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