“Why do I need to worry about my people’s feelings? Why don’t they automatically just FEEL like doing their best? They’re lucky they have a job! Am I there to coddle them?”
These are bottom line beliefs and questions among my executive clients who tend to be more task / directive / deadline-driven. Some are thinking these things mainly when there are morale or performance issues, while others face them when confronted with feedback, or after reading the latest book on brilliant leadership.
Talking to the people on their team, I tend to hear:
“She would get a lot more out of us if she would just stop telling us what to do and how to do it, and instead, ASK what we would suggest, or how we would approach it, then let us do it that way—even if it’s not perfect, we’d learn.”
“He’s all about command and control. Get on his good side by delivering results and keeping your mouth shut.”
“She has no idea how many people here—including her best—are looking for other jobs. They’ll be out of here the minute they can get something better.”
“He doesn’t care about us. All he cares about is making sure the investors get their returns, and the board is happy with his numbers.”
“Would it kill her to acknowledge a job well done from time to time? She says doing a good job IS my job, and I’m well paid for it. Thanks!”
Yes, directive, task-focused leader: you are responsible for their feelings, but probably not in the way you think.
My view—and plenty of research backs me on this—is that it’s not the leader’s job to motivate your people. In fact, it’s incumbent on you to hire self-motivated people, and to weed out the apathetic ones.
Once that’s done, and you have the right team, it IS your job to avoid DE-MOTIVATING them, which you do by holding them too tightly in your fist, and/or micromanaging them, or by failing to acknowledge them.
The need for acknowledgement, after all, is a fundamental human drive. Failure to recognize this isn’t just tone-deaf leadership, it erodes and finally destroys engagement among otherwise motivated people.
If you have self-motivated, capable, experienced people running your organization, the best thing you can do is back off, support them, and get out of their way. It also means noticing HOW THEY ARE FEELING as a potential proxy for your own level of overwrought directive behavior.
Practice: regularly ask each of your key, capable, self-motivated people HOW THEY ARE FEELING, and just listen. You may hear crickets at first, but stick with it. Over time, if they think you care, which you need to do, then you’ll know what you need to change to get out of their way, and in doing so, allow them to do their best work ever.