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Your Employees are Neither Children nor Machines

Leigh Bailey | June 9, 2022 | Blog | 3 minute read

Effective leadership requires competence in three key areas:

  • Commitment to personal growth in self-awareness and self-management
  • Creating an engaging work environment where employees are:
    • Treated respectfully (this means relating to them as adults)
    • Challenged and held accountable for achieving specific and measurable goals
    • Equipped with everything they need to achieve the goals
  • Achieving business (organizational) results that support enterprise operating and strategic goals and priorities

Accomplishing the above requires that a leader be competent at a truly daunting breadth of knowledge and skills. I'd suggest that it is a lifetime's work to master becoming a truly effective leader.

As I reflect on the above, three truths (at least for me) about becoming an effective leader emerge:

  1. Effective leadership requires that a leader be committed to her development as an adult. Over the years, I have worked with therapists, attended Al-Anon meetings, and practiced meditation. These different personal growth experiences share a set of common objectives necessary for a healthy life and effective leadership:
    • A basic sense of self worth that is not dependent on the approval of others (necessary for the courage required to drive change and handle the inherent challenges of being a leader)
    • Getting to know and becoming honest with yourself regarding your gifts and defects of character
    • Learning to recognize and manage (vs. being managed by) your emotions
    • Learning about and taking responsibility for your values, beliefs, feelings, and behavior so as not to be a victim of your inevitably imperfect upbringing
    • Understanding that you create reality through the lens of your personality and personal history and thus acquiring healthy humility regarding your viewpoints and opinions
  2. Employees you lead are not your children nor are they machines. Carl Rogers first articulated three requirements of relationships that foster growth (which is the type of relationship leaders must seek to create with employees to promote employee engagement)
    • Unconditional positive regard
    • Listening with empathy
    • Congruence

These three principles create a roadmap for balancing employee engagement and achieving results. They require a leader to be kind and supportive while also being able to be congruent and hold employees accountable, even when it is difficult.

Leaders are being bombarded these days with suggestions for how to deal with employee mental health issues, creating maximally flexible work environments, and understanding employee's personal challenges. While all of these are noble and often worthy goals, I fear the risk of mistaking the means for the ends.

The role of a leader is not the same as that of a therapist or caregiver. The role of a leader is to achieve organizational results through an engaged and committed workforce.

An over-emphasis on caring for and being "kind" to employees runs the risk of treating employees as if they were children to be taken care of. Research makes clear that humans are happiest when they are challenged to use their talents to achieve goals that are possible, interesting, and important to them. The goal of employee engagement and the task of a leader is to support employees in using their talents and interests in alignment with organizational goals.

3. Effective leaders must also be skilled managers. The competencies traditionally thought of as management skills (e.g., delegation, time management, performance management, setting expectations) are the tools that effective leaders use to work with people to create organizational results. The goal is not engagement or results. It must be engagement and results.

TBG has a team of coaches and business executives committed to supporting you reaching your full potential as a leader. If you resonate with the above, reach out and have a conversation with one of our executive coaches. Our promise is empathy, great listening, and honesty. Put another way, you will grow from the experience. So don't put it off. We are waiting to hear from you.