I had a moment of insight while watching the Marine Corps Marathon this past Sunday, October 27, in the pouring rain. Some years I bike with friends and cheer on the runners along the route. This year was different. My daughter was running, and I got a more intimate view of what it takes to prepare for such an undertaking. She trained for several months with the support of the District Running Collective, a community-based organization that uses running to promote wellness, culture, and community.
We had a plan to cheer her along various points along the route including the DRC’s cheering station at mile 20, when many runners hit the proverbial wall. The group had set up several tents and had a DJ playing music and cheering on the runners. The runners at that point seemed to appreciate it.
What most impressed me was his pointing to runners and saying “I see you.” In that moment that was the most respectful thing he could say. It was more than encouragement. He was saying, “I see how hard you worked to get here, to be able to do this difficult thing. I see that you’re suffering in this pouring rain. I respect you. I appreciate you and what you’re doing. And I know that you have the strength and determination to finish.”
Those words – “I see you” – made me think of the organizational assessments we’ve done in which employees say they don’t feel respected. They don’t feel seen. They don’t feel heard. It is hard to engage employees and have high performance when you don’t even acknowledge people’s basic humanity. Engagement starts with respect, with acknowledging people. With “I see you.”