October 11, 2023

Listening with Mr. Overstreet

Growing up, my family moved nine times—mainly throughout the Midwest. All of that was before I even entered high school. I grew accustomed to reintroducing myself to new neighbors, teachers, and friends over and over again. Due to my dad's job as a veterinarian who worked for the USDA, we needed to live in small towns. In many cases, we were the first Egyptians that people had ever met.

Sometimes, it was a blast to share with friends that I had actually been to the Pyramids, or that "No, I don’t 'walk like an Egyptian,'" or to share our amazing cuisine with people who had never had hummus or baba ganoush (which to my great joy have become Western delicacies).

But when 9/11 happened, our family was really scared. Most local Middle Eastern restaurants and establishments experienced some form of hate. And though my family had great friends, we felt on edge. At the time, the principal of my high school was a guy named Mark Overstreet. He was a favorite among students—an ex-football player with a kind spirit and a sort of "cool dad swagger."

One day that fall, Mr. Overstreet invited me into his office. He sat me down and simply asked how my family and I were doing. We talked about what was happening at home and what kids were saying around school. He didn’t say too much during our conversation—he listened, asked how he could help, and we discussed ways for me to keep up with classes amid everything taking place. At the end, he simply reassured me that I could come to him if I needed anything. The entire conversation probably lasted 15 minutes and it was one of the most formative moments of those high school days.

If you’re leading any type of team right now, your job is to create that kind of space—to acknowledge what’s happening in the world, discuss how it’s impacting people on your team, and brainstorm ways to support their well-being. Host these conversations 1-on-1 or, at the very least, through a direct message on Slack, Teams, etc.

When world events happen, your team will feel it, whether they're voicing it or not. Acknowledge it, create space to listen, and support as you can.

These are the moments that build trust — the ones your team will remember.

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