Michael McFall is the co-Founder and co-CEO of BIGGBY COFFEE as well as author of the Inc. Original book GRIND.
Are employees the worst?
If you even paused or had to think for a split second about the answer to this question, you need to read on. If you aspire to be a strong leader, the answer to this question has to be an emphatic and without hesitation “no.”
Over the past 20 years, I have given hundreds of presentations to aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders. I like to ask the group, “What is the biggest challenge faced by business leaders today? And what has been the biggest challenge for business leaders for the past 30, 50, even 100 years?” Invariably, without pause, I get the reply, “people!” Once somebody yelled out “taxes!” but I will save my commentary on that for another day. Otherwise, 99% of the time, it’s “finding good people” or some variant on this line of thinking.
The stance many leaders and mangers take is that there are so few good people out there. Our job as managers is to find the needle in the haystack — the employee who is going to solve all of our problems — but this is flawed thinking. You don’t find good people; you create an environment that allows people to thrive, grow and become their most powerful selves.
For your contemplation: How many people walk into the office on their first day thinking, “Boy, I hope I do a terrible job”? How many people walk in thinking that they are going to do the least amount of work possible to get a paycheck? I’d guess nearly zero. It’s true that there are some unemployable people out there, but I believe the vast majority of the workforce is eager and willing to work hard. It’s your job to meet them where they are and inspire them.
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Managing through fear and anxiety is horrendously unproductive. Gone are the Jack Welchian days of culling 10% of staff regardless of their objective performance. Strong leaders understand that they need to mitigate fear and anxiety while promoting a nurturing and supportive organization. They believe there is nothing wrong with people. They believe people are amazing. They believe people want to be inspired. They believe people want to be successful and feel fulfilled by their work.
Emphatically and without hesitation, I will say again that there is nothing wrong with people, but we do have a whole bunch of really bad managers and leaders in the world. The manager of yesteryear knew and understood that they must create an environment that facilitates success for their employees, meaning that employees know exactly what they are supposed to do, have the tools they need to do it and receive continuous feedback that is healthy and meaningful. Does this sound about right? If you agree, great, but that’s really just the baseline today. The leadership ethos is changing.
If you want to be a futuristic leader of tomorrow, you must take on a different level of responsibility. It is no longer enough to be a good employer and simply trade the employee money for time, kind of like leasing a machine. Today, there is a new level of engagement for managing and leading. Today, organizations must take care of the entire person, not just the employee; they must also support them as a spouse, friend, parent, community member, soccer player, activist, gamer and more.
Imagine how powerful our teams would be if everyone who showed up for work this morning knew that the entire team was there to support them regardless of their situation. We would experience love, compassion and the loyalty and commitment in our workplaces of which the traditional leader could only dream.
For example, what if you reached out to an employee whose father passed and said, “Take two weeks, spend time with your mother and get her through the worst of it. We will take care of your stuff and we will be ready for you upon your return.”
Or, what if someone on your team made a horrendous mistake that cost the organization $200k, and your team understood it to be an honest mistake. Instead of hanging them out to dry, they all agreed to cut $30k from their budget in the next twelve months to backstop the loss and reported to you and senior management that it was handled.
Or, what if your team knew you were going through a divorce and things were financially brutal. They knew that you were struggling to put food on the table for your kids. Instead of ignoring your situation, they offered to give up $4k in annual salary for one year to get you through the worst of it. How would you feel as a leader if your team took this action?
This is the environment the leader of the future has the chance to create. People will be inspired to work with teams that conduct business from a human perspective first. Employees will come to work inspired and, more importantly, leave work inspired. Happy employees can go home to be more loving parents and more engaged partners and friends. They will be better neighbors and members of their communities. Just imagine the ripple effect.