The idea of the social compact is not a new concept. It has been around since the 17th century. Writers such as Locke and Rousseau began to explore the relationship of the individual to those in authority. They examined how an individual would cede certain individual liberties to a governing authority in exchange for that authority providing certain things like the enshrinement of those rights and the provision of a level of order. They called it a social contract, which was either explicit (a constitution) or implicit, and the understanding was that one exercised authority only at the consent of those being governed.
While this is admittedly a political concept, the fact is that it can be applied to leadership in general. Its application can range from informal settings such as a group of friends to more formal settings like teams and certainly to business. And it is a leadership absolute.
What are the components of this absolute, and how does this impact you as a leader? First and most importantly, it is based on the premise that those you lead have value. Your team has value because of what skills they bring to the business, and also because of who they are as individuals. What are some of the features that make up the value of the individual?
A Complete Package
People are more than the sum of their resumes. You hire someone for specific skills, which of course is the point, yet they come to you with far more than those skills. They come with a desire to learn, to grow, to contribute, to be recognized, to be provided with direction and feedback, and as humans wired for community, they desire to have that community acknowledge their value beyond their skills as a whole person that comes with that package. In short, our people are not commodities or assets to be used and then discarded.
The social contract subscribes to two principles; people have an inherent worth that must be respected, and those in authority act as trustees of that worth and lead accordingly. In a political setting, when that contract is violated, those who are governed rise up and replace that government. In business, when this happens, they leave. They leave in one of two ways; literally, or they just check out emotionally and productively. Either scenario is costly.
The expression of this social contract in business can be seen with good leaders igniting staff to new levels of engagement and productivity or bad leaders driving good people out. People have figured this out and now companies rate leadership on things like employee retention or satisfaction. Of course, that is only one measure, but folks are getting the message.
Engage the Whole Individual
Think about it this way, you may get promoted into a position of leadership and have the ability to exercise whatever authority comes with that, but you will never really lead unless you have at least the implicit consent and support of those under you. We all know that those who treat staff poorly can get away with it for a time, but sooner or later, it will catch up to them. Either in low productivity or high turnover. Remember you lead by social contract - do right by them, and they will do right by you. Hu centered leadership, think about it!