What is the number one priority for every leader? How do you create an environment that facilitates maximum productivity? A place where people give maximum effort, feel outstanding levels of job satisfaction, where deep currents of trust and cooperation flow strongly every single day. It sounds like a workplace utopia and it’s closer than you might think. Kim Cameron said the duty of a leader is to create an organization where it is easy to practice kindness. Think about that for a moment.
Is it possible that there is nothing more important than to lead with care?
Sounds soft, doesn’t it? If we think of business as scrappy or even cut-throat, or if we have experienced the underhanded and dirty play that violates legitimate free-market competition, it’s easy to become cynical or even jaded about such a statement. Really? Kindness? Lead with care? That’s your approach? Wow, sounds like you’re about to have your head handed to you on a platter. Admit it…be honest with yourself…it doesn’t sound like a way to get ahead, does it?!
Does it sound wise to place the needs of others before your own? Not if you think the only way to “get yours” is by doing whatever you have to, even taking it from others. There is probably no better example of this than the military. Think of the thousands of stories of heroic men and women who refused to make themselves the number one priority and we are still talking about them today. Or those who have laid down their lives for civic causes seeing a bigger benefit for all mankind rather than preserving their own life and well-being.
Do everything you can for them while you are here!
It seems that the one best way to ensure that you leave an impact on others, to make certain they are talking about you after you have gone, is to do everything you can for them while you are here. And if you think that’s just a goofy guy’s opinion sitting behind a mic in a basement in UT, you would be mistaken. I’m talking about an approach to leadership that is utilized by many of the most successful businessmen and women at the helm of some of the largest companies and it works.
So I have to give credit for this episode to my good friend, Rick Marion. I have the good fortune of getting to speak with Rick at least once a week in a Mastermind call and he is full of great insight. Rick is a smart guy with a passion for words and marketing.
Have you ever been disappointed to find out that those who you expect to lead well, don’t? I think we are shocked when the very part of an organization which should care for employees is the least capable of doing so. I had this experience this week where I work. I’m not going to give you all of the details, but suffice it to say that in a roomful of people being severely impacted by necessary business decisions, the human resource representation was cold, defensive, and arrogant in their communications approach. Instead of expressing empathy, understanding, or a desire to learn more about the situation faced by multiple families, it was a heartless, robotic response that essentially said: “that’s your problem.”
When I was talking to Rick, he reminded me of the approach taken by Simon Sinek when it comes to handling difficult situations with personnel. He gave a TED Talk called “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe” and in pure Sinek fashion, brought clarity to why treating people well is foundational to any success we will experience.
Sometimes people behave badly because they are scared.
I was angry with the HR rep about how severely the message was communicated to my team. It upset the team members. The delivery was unprofessional and was inflicting pain. What I didn’t expect was to come away with any empathy for that rep. Simon said that sometimes people are behaving the way they do because THEY are scared. They don’t feel safe or they fear their leaders. Now I’m not excusing the rep, but I can see how this could happen.
I talked earlier about the example of military personnel. Simon said in the military, we give medals to those who sacrifice themselves that others may gain and in business, we give bonuses to those who sacrifice others so that I may gain. It’s backward – and wrong!
If your goal is to build trust, to foster creative thinking/solutions, cooperation, and partnership that breaks down silo-mentality, do you think it’s going to happen in an environment where everyone is fearful that their next mistake will be their last? Where you have to constantly be looking over your shoulder for backstabbers? Where credit is stolen and others benefit who didn’t do any of the work? Of course not!
If we want people to excel, we have to create an environment where they don’t feel threatened.
That doesn’t sound fun or productive does it? If we want people to excel, we have to create an environment where they don’t feel threatened. A place where they don’t feel like someone is waiting to take advantage of them. Have you noticed that a family can create a safe feeling of belonging without diminishing the responsibility and obligation of each family member?
When leaders treat team members like family, they aren’t absolving them of all responsibility to perform. They aren’t coddling or creating a place where sub-par performance is acceptable. They are setting up an environment where they are committed to helping each team member achieve their maximum potential. Where they are committed to ensuring team members feel safe and know they belong. They understand not only their role but the value of their contribution!
So Simon said this, he said: “Great leaders will never sacrifice people to save the numbers – they sacrifice the numbers to save the people.” You might think, “ha, yeah right, and then they go out of business.” It couldn’t be further from the truth. There is evidence that demonstrates safe companies are more profitable than unsafe companies. I’ll give you a personal example:
Leaders are responsible for people.
At Rio Tinto, Safety is the number one priority. It’s not just a motto, it’s a way of life. Any job that an employee or contractor feels is unsafe to be performed can be stopped. No protocol. No prerequisites. If it’s not safe, RT EXPECTS you to stop the job before you or anyone else gets hurt. Eventually, that will cost you money. In massive operations, anytime a job is stopped, the dollars start ringing up. It can cost the company millions of dollars to halt a part of the operation, but when that value becomes a practice, people know that they are more important than money. Going home safe and well is more important than meeting a production target for the shift.
This fits nicely with something Simon said: “Leaders aren’t responsible for the results. They are responsible for the people, who are responsible for the results.” Ironically, when you operate safely, you don’t incur all of the costs that come with operating unsafely. Think about that for a moment. You might be avoiding a long-term disruption to your business, fines or penalties, labor disputes, your license to operate in your community, legal costs or huge settlements resulting from wrongful injury or death. Those costs aren’t theoretical. It’s why safe companies are more profitable.
Build trust by demonstrating care.
When you demonstrate that you care for people, when you demonstrate active caring for your team, you are going to build trust. I’ve talked about how critical trust is for a team to excel. If you want to go read about just one such example, take a look at Bob Chapman from the manufacturer, Barry-Wehmiller out in St. Louis. He was recently name the #3 CEO in the world in an Inc. magazine article. Do you know what his platform is? He calls it Truly Human Leadership. A people-centric approach where his employees feel valued, cared for, and an integral part of the company’s purpose.
In the TED Talk Simon did, he mentions a situation that Barry-Wehmiller was facing. A situation where layoffs were viewed by the board as being the best option and Bob resisted. He felt that there was a way for”all to suffer a little versus any of us having to suffer a lot.” He came up with a creative way to address the problem and I’ll leave it to you to go listen and find out what it was.
Where personal achievement and morale fly high
It reminded me of another situation where I saw active caring demonstrated by leadership and by the team. When I first started working for Rio Tinto, I was located in Gillette, WY. A the site where I worked, there were a couple hundred employees. One of the employees had a tragic situation where his spouse had been diagnosed with cancer it was going to require extensive treatment at one of the cancer centers back east. He didn’t have the vacation time to take off several months while she got the care she needed and financially, they couldn’t afford an FMLA leave without pay. It seemed like a no-win situation. Until employees started donating vacation so he could take it to be with his wife.
Even though the HR systems couldn’t support it, the folks in that group – people who I KNEW cared about me and every other employee out there, said “we will find a way to make it work” and they did. When that level of trust exists, when people will cooperate to that extent, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.
Stanley Huffty said “It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position.” and I want you to remember this. Leaders go first. They take a risk for the benefit of those they are leading. They sacrifice what’s best for them to benefit all. Are you prepared to go all out for your people? Are you ready to lead with care?
Great Quotes From This Episode:
“The duty of a leader is to create an organization where it is easy to practice kindness.” – Kim Cameron
“Great leaders will never sacrifice people to save the numbers – they sacrifice the numbers to save the people.” – Simon Sinek
“Leaders aren’t responsible for the results. They are responsible for the people, who are responsible for the results.” – Simon Sinek
“It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position.” – Stanley Huffty
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe Simon Sinek TED Talk
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