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You Can't Fake Genuine with Shelley Brown

Little did I know when the day began it would shape up to be so W.E.I.R.D., which, in the incredibly colorful world of author, artist mindfulness educator, storyteller, and sought-after keynote speaker, Shelley Brown, stands for Welcoming, Engaging, Integrating, Risk-taking and Delivering – more about that later.


Although I know it was the beneficent forces of the Universe that brought us together on this most auspicious day, it happened by way of Linkedin via Emily Goldfischer, who shared this most generous post of Shelley’s about hertelier with me this morning.

Shelley Brown speaker and author
Shelley Brown in action

Neither of us knew her—which made her unsolicited post all the more remarkable-- but as I read the profile of this 25+ year former hospitality industry professional, I really wanted to: “BELONGING at WORK, I work with leaders in the hospitality industry & beyond to create a continuous culture of belonging.” So, I connected with her, and she immediately accepted. The only other people I know who are this responsive are Emily, my friend Dana and me, and from the get-go, I sensed we were kindred spirits. Turns out, so did Shelley.


Initially, my idea had been to “unpack” the value of belonging with her for this week’s column, but after exchanging several genuinely joyous and heartfelt emails throughout the day, I decided to shift gears. Because over the course of learning about each other and feeling so comfortable with Shelley--like we had known each other for ages--I realized that being genuine is at the core of belonging…and she confirmed that!


Seems counterintuitive that fostering a culture of belonging in the workplace has not always been among the hierarchy of values in business. Don’t know about you, but personally, I do my best work when I feel accepted for who I am and valued for what I bring to the table.


“When people feel like they can be themselves, they experience belonging, they feel valued and appreciated for who they are, they feel more comfortable, they feel safer,” says Shelley. “It breeds trust and allows for creativity and originality. We want to feel happy about our jobs and being somewhere where we can become a better version of ourselves is good for us and good for business.”

Nancy Mendelson advice column

Life experience has taught me that you can’t fake genuine, but you can create an environment and a culture that nurtures it. Here are some of Shelley’s W.E.I.R.D. actionable practices and processes that allow individuals to own who they are and cultivate belonging with one another.


W is for welcoming. Rolling out the welcome mat for employees and keeping it rolled out. Welcoming is the intentional and ongoing practice of hospitality. Our employees know when they feel welcome and when they do, they will want to stay.


E is for engaging. Engaging with our full selves, staying present and open, mindful, and intentional to amplify the experience of belonging by being curious and interested in employee preferences, perspectives and points of view. Our employees want to feel like they matter as individuals, and when they do, engagement happens.


I is for integrating. Seeing the whole of the human being without separating the human being from the human working. A human being is the integration of their physical, mental, and emotional health. Employees deserve compassion and seek employers who demonstrate care for their well-being.


R is for risk-taking. Taking the risk to show up in ways that are authentic whether we’ve made a mistake, when we are feeling emotional, or perhaps when we simply don’t have an answer, or even accentuating something about ourselves that’s different from others, that makes us stand out, we create a safe space to let everyone show up as themselves. We meet individuals where they are we take the risk of seeing each person as a human being, not as the object of our success.


D is for delivering. Empowering and encouraging leaders and talent with the right tools and the right amount of guidance so they can deliver on W.E.I.R.D. to take “You belong here” from a slogan into action. This is a dynamic culture that will progress because we care about each individual.


Shelley believes, and I completely agree, that “what makes us “weird” actually brings us together. OUR INDIVIDUALITY UNITES US. This is when engagement happens.”


Amen, Shelley! Here’s to being weird and thriving!!!

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