You are a leader who is lucky enough to have employees who love their job. They come to work every day full of enthusiasm and ready to conquer the world. Life is good! Or, you’re a leader who is forced to deal with employees who are, at best, ambivalent about their work. The most exciting part of their work day tends to be when it ends. Life is hard! These very different scenarios clearly call for different leadership approaches, right? I don’t think so.
Managers who tout the fact that they simply seem to care more about the work than their employees are doing nothing more than judging. If you have done this as a leader, have you ever stopped to think what your employees care more about than you? Sure, perhaps you, the manager, really care about the widget your company makes and how it serves the public. It drives you crazy when people don’t care as much as you. Perhaps you are now privately, or even not so privately, elevating your status as a human being…because you care more than everyone else at work. And worse, all your efforts to convince your people that they should care more about work are falling on deaf ears. If only they cared as much as you, they would really love their work!
But what if you, as a manager, discovered that while your employee, Janice, makes no bones about her job being a means to an end, her end is using her salary from the job she cares little about to travel to the most needy neighborhoods in America to tutor at risk children in math and science, free of charge, on every weekend and holiday? You’d probably say that is an outlier. Yes, now you understand, and Janice is ok in your book. But what about the other ones?! They don’t care about the work as much as you and don’t care about something important like Janice does. But then you discover something another employee cares about more than his job…and on it goes.
As leaders we must face the reality that a large majority of people are, at best, ambivalent about their jobs. Jobs for a lot of people are a means to an end. A means to pay the bills, put food on the table, maintain health insurance, and take a vacation once and a while. This is allowed. People are allowed to feel this way. What if you stopped judging how people felt about their jobs and stopped trying to convince them they should care more?
What if you, as a leader, focused on ensuring the work environment was something your employees actually liked, because that is in your control as a leader.
To be clear, I’m not talking about instituting Thursday happy hours, casual Fridays, or putting a ping pong table and video games in the work space.
I’m talking about creating an environment of professionalism.
A professional environment encapsulates everything besides the actual function of the company or organization. It’s not the work everyone is required to do, it’s how everyone is required to act. People may not care about the actual function of the organization, but they do care about how people speak to one another. They care about people being sensitive to one another’s feelings. They care about having their voice heard. They care about people respecting their time. They care about not having to listen to rude or off-color jokes. They care about the harm gossip creates. They care about the negative impact of favoritism and cliques.
- What if you changed nothing about the ins and outs of company business, but everyone spoke to each other with respect and courtesy?
- What if everyone knew their voice was heard, even if their suggestions weren’t always taken?
- What if people were on time and respectful of everyone’s time?
- What if they knew they wouldn’t be subjected to locker room talk?
- What if the gossipers were the outliers?
What if you, as a leader, changed nothing else, but everyone acted in the way I just described? Would your team and organization get better?
The answer is yes, it would. Without question.
How does this happen? The leader makes clear the behavior she expects from everyone. The leader re-enforces the guidelines for behavior regularly, so her employees never forget their importance. And finally, the leader makes people answer for their behavior. “Please explain why you gossip in the office space. I made it clear this is not an acceptable behavior.” This is accountability. Simply having people answer for their behavior, good, bad, or otherwise. Accountability is different than consequence. The consequence comes when someone’s answers for their behavior, and their continued behavior, are not in line with the guidelines for professional behavior outlined by the leader. Consequence is a different topic all together.
What about the leader who has the privilege of working with people who love their job? Is he off the hook for creating a professional environment? No, he is not. People will leave a job they like because the work environment is unprofessional. Someone may love selling or making the widget more than anything in the world, but can’t stand the backstabbing, gossiping, rude, cliquish environment. People will leave work they love because the environment is unprofessional.
Creating a professional environment people enjoy coming to every day, regardless of how they feel about the actual work, is essential to success, but hard to do. Welcome to leadership.
Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coaching, keynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.