Human-Centered Leadership: From Self-Sacrifice to Self-Care with Dimple Dhabalia · ShiftWorkPlace

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Ep115 Human-Centered Leadership: From Self-Sacrifice to Self-Care with Dimple Dhabalia

Redefining leadership in the mission-driven sector.

Bio for Dimple Dhabalia

Dimple Dhabalia is the founder of Roots in the Clouds, a boutique consulting firm specializing in using the power of storytelling to heal individual and organizational trauma and moral injury. She is a writer, podcaster, coach, and facilitator with over twenty years of public service experience, working at the intersection of leadership, mindful awareness, and storytelling. She is also the bestselling author of “Tell Me My Story—Challenging the Narrative of Service Before Self,” which was published in February 2024.

Dimple’s journey to becoming a leader of leaders was a circuitous one, unfolding over almost two decades of living, working, and traveling in more than 40 countries, serving the most vulnerable people in the world. Her career’s empowering and challenging experiences led her to launch Roots in the Clouds in 2021. Her mission is to transform mission-driven sectors by building human-centered cultures that meet mission needs and create psychologically safe spaces of empathy, connection, well-being, and belonging for staff.

Episode highlight

In this episode, Dimple shares her insightful experiences of navigating cultural differences and feeling the impact of vicarious trauma while serving vulnerable people in over 40 countries. Her story is a powerful testament to the impact of childhood experiences, mental health struggles, and the importance of self-care and empathy in leadership.

Our conversation delves into the significance of acknowledging and addressing organizational trauma, the impact of moral conflict, and the need for holistic, human-centered duties of care in organizations. Dimple’s dedication to transforming mission-driven sectors and building human-centered cultures is truly inspiring.

Listen to hear more.

Links

Quotes

  • “You have to feel it in order to heal it.”
  • “I think I tend to see the world through this lens of a lot of people who are just wanting love and belonging, there are a lot of nervous systems in need of being regulated.”
  • “Organizations have to create a duty of care that looks at the needs of the whole person.”

Takeaways

Childhood Incidents

The experiences Dimple had in her childhood shaped the human-centered leader she is today. Her goal is to ensure that the people she leads and the organizations she helps feel secure.

As a child, Dimple celebrated all holidays regardless of whether they were Hindu or not. She loved Easter so much and recalls one Easter when she looked out her window and saw some Easter eggs hidden in their garden. She ran out with a basket to collect the eggs, thinking the Easter bunny had come. One of their neighbors bluntly told her that those eggs were for the Christian children in the neighborhood. Her father made her return the eggs, which she did without issue.

In school, one of her classmates called her an “Indian giver” because she changed her mind about giving her one of her favorite pencils. When Dimple reported her to the teacher, the teacher just laughed and told her she shouldn’t have changed her mind and the teacher made her apologize. Dimple felt terrible about it and felt like she didn’t belong.

At age seven, Dimple’s dad was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the family dynamics changed. Dimple could no longer recite prayers with her dad, and her mom became the breadwinner. Sometimes, Dimple had to help her mom with orders, and missed being with her friends.

Cultural Influences

Dimple has always been a high-performing leader. Her mission was service before self. Her mother, who also worked very hard, taught her this principle, role modeling taking care of others before herself. In the last few years before she passed on, her mother insisted that Dimple and her sister take care of themselves first, which created a powerful shift in Dimple. Today, she believes in service without sacrifice.

Having lived in different countries, Dimple enjoyed Greece the most. People there had clear boundaries between life and work, which gave her an opportunity to have an amazing circle of people around her, and to serve in a healthy way. However, when she moved to Delhi, she backslid and went back to overworking and having no social life.

Personality and Temperament

Dimple believes her temperament is rooted in empathy, caring, and a desire to fight injustice. Over the years, she has added self-care, learning to be curious rather than judgmental, and recognizing that there may be more happening with people than what is visible on the surface.

Cultural Epiphanies 

When Dimple was about five or six years old, she was part of the Brownies. One Saturday morning, their team leader decided to kidnap all the girls and surprise them with breakfast at McDonald’s. Dimple’s mom woke her up and got her all dressed. When the team leaders and the other girls arrived, they were all in their pyjamas and some were half asleep. Dimple’s mom and the team leader had a conversation and it was clear that she wasn’t apologetic for having had Dimple ready and making her the odd one out.

What Brings Out the Best in Dimple? 

For Dimple, curiosity, connection, and empathy are the trifecta. Curiosity fuels the desire to understand where the other person is coming from. Empathy means being in the other person’s space and practicing what Dimple’s friend calls the ministry of presence. Connection involves creating room to explore stories and organizational trauma.

Soapbox Moment:

Dimple’s book, “Tell Me My Story: Challenging the Narrative of Service Before Self,” is out. Please check it out. Our guest has two podcasts, “Service Without Sacrifice” and “What Would Ted Lasso Do?” She invites us to listen to her podcasts. Dimple plans on having a book tour and invites organizations and cities willing to host her events to reach out to her via email. For those interested in learning more about Dimple’s work, sign up for her newsletter, Dear Humanitarian.

Extro

Dimple Dhabalia is a humanitarian who strives to create spaces for those in service industries to be healthy, whole, and happy at work. Having interviewed hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees in over 40 countries, Dimple knows well what people need to flourish. Her insights are enriched by her own reframed childhood trauma into post-traumatic growth. I learned a lot from my interview with Dimple and resonated personally with her stories. Her ability to apply experience to multiple contexts for healthier workplaces is inspiring. Here are a few of my takeaways:

  1. Everyone has a story, and regions and generations have stories too. If we seek to invite others to share their stories, we can promote collective healing.
  2. Empathy comes from feeling. Feeling your own emotions is necessary to function effectively at work and to develop empathy towards others. As Dimple said in the interview, “You have to feel it to heal it.”
  3. Living in different countries offers the opportunity to see how we are influenced by the societal traits around us. We take advantage of that opportunity through reflection.
  4. Moral wounds happen when our values are compromised by our work conditions, colleagues, or bosses. Organizations that recognize the pain caused by moral wounds are taking the first step towards creating psychologically safe work environments and will become leaders in workplace wellness in their field.
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