A couple of things I have seen recently reinforced for me what we continue to do wrong in our efforts at leadership.
The first was a story about a teacher who almost took delight in grading the work of a child in her fourth grade class and giving him the failing grade that his unorganized, sloppy work deserved.
Because she was thorough she chose to read evaluations of his past work by his previous teachers and discovered that a very bright child was affected by his mother’s serious illness and eventual death and the absence of any meaningful attention from a grieving and distracted father.
The epiphany associated with that discovery caused her to make a fundamental shift in her approach to teaching. Instead of teaching subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic; she began teaching children- a profound distinction.
The poor performing child went from a distracted student to a practicing physician and shared with her along that journey how compelling her intervention was in his achievements.
In another story teachers were exposed to the question – what I wish my teacher knew about me.
The students wished that their teachers had a little more of an appreciation in what was going on in their lives outside of school and the classroom.
I have been a practicing manager for over three decades. I remember the model I was originally exposed to as the fundamental skill sets of effective management- planning, directing, controlling, and budgeting.
We were still immersed in the precepts of Frederik Taylor’s scientific management model. Some were born to do, others born to manage or lead.
As a young human resources professional we were tasked with administrative activities and relieving managers of less valuable activities like setting expectations, providing feedback, coaching for optimal performance, and taking appropriate corrective action when performance didn’t meet expectations.
The Civil Rights Act and its amendments and additional legislation that followed that made discrimination on a number of issues illegal and introduced affirmative action to try to right wrongs gave human resources some leverage because the requirements weren’t well understood and proliferated.
The models were still very much about compliance, if employees would be loyal (defined obedient) they would be rewarded with a degree of security upon retirement. Then we discovered outsourcing, down- sizing, and offshoring to optimize financial performance and the contract was broken.
According to a recent survey over fifty percent of people seeking additional managerial responsibilities do so to increase their earning potential.
Executives acknowledge that highly capable manager with well- developed leadership skills cause their organizations to outperform their competition by a significant degree, yet less than half feel their organization does a good job of developing leaders.
A few years ago I got very enamored with the concept of what we are now calling employee engagement. Even before the data was available something told me that there was a better way. It inspired me to publish my first book, Managing Whole People, in 2008.
In the intervening years the data has become much more prevalent and compelling. We have made some progress in changing the model, but the dark years between 2008 and 2010 brought back a lot of the predatory practices of the past inspired by high unemployment and employees feeling trapped.
We have four generations in the workplace now and the latest two entrants look at work and the employee-employer relationship very differently.
They expect employers to provide them with a compelling purpose for the work that they do, to invest in them and their personal and professional development and to earn the trust and respect if they want to see it reciprocated.
I think they are right. Terms like human assets and human capital make me grind my teeth. Human resources practitioners who believe the most important role they play in their organization is compliance piss me off, and executives who still refer to managing people as a soft skill annoy me to distraction.
Like that teacher discovered we have been doing it wrong. We need to recruit, manage, and retain whole people. We need to provide alignment and purpose and manage people and talent not assets.
You don’t need to be a therapist or a social worker. You do need to build and reinforce identity based trust and there is not a degree or a training program that can do that for you. You have to do the work and you have to do it every day.
The benefits are clear and compelling, so is the downside of doing what we have always done.
If you think that emotional and social intelligence don’t exist, you are screwed. You live in a bubble of your own construction. If you think that trust and respect are perquisites that come with a position or title you are going to fail.
Let’s fix this….