This last absolute is really the culmination of all the others and sometimes is also the most misunderstood. Like the Hippocratic Oath leadership at its core is founded on the principle that the people who make up your team or organization have worth and need to be treated as such. That understanding drives us to provide vision, direction, get buy in, provide reinforcement for the good performance that they deliver, give them an opportunity to grow into leaders in their own right and ensure that they understand the meaning and scope of their work. All those things communicate worth.
What are some of those things that we do as leaders that are actually harmful to our people? Let’s start with honesty. When we are dishonest with our people about the things that impact them or about their performance we do harm. I am not talking about high level strategic initiatives that require a level of confidentiality in order to maintain a competitive advantage. I am talking about those day to day things that someone does that either causes you or the team irritation and yet no one wants to speak to it because no one likes conflict. Or it could be performance related or just something as simple as "fit" where someone seems to be having trouble fitting in with the group. If we are honest about it, we avoid those conversations and hope that it will fix itself. In case you missed it, not telling someone about an issue that you are aware of is as dishonest as lying about it.
Here is something to consider; from an objective level what is more painful, watching someone struggle with either performance or fit and ultimately fail or sitting down with that person to come up with a plan that honestly addresses the issues. That’s not to say that failure may still happen but at least they had a chance to make it work and they knew you had their back.
Here is the other nuance that we often don’t think about when dealing with staff. When you do or don’t step up to address those staff issues you send a very clear message to the other staff on your team. Is that message a confidence booster or a morale deflator? In a recent survey 45% of respondents cited trust of their leaders as a major factor regarding productivity. You may think you are only avoiding the one issue but in reality you may well be creating a host of others – be frank, be honest and always from a perspective of sincerely wanting what’s best for that person.
Another way we can harm our staff is the proverbial “throwing them under the bus!” I wish I could say this does not happen often but we all know that would not be true. Sadly, it is also the surest sign of a weak leader. We all want our teams to function with a high level of accountability but how many times has someone been rewarded for that with a rap on the knuckles or worse. The hardest thing to learn as a leader is to admit when you have erred and “own” it. Placing the blame on an underling only inhibits productivity. Its pretty hard to throw yourself into something wholeheartedly when you are constantly wondering whose head will roll if something goes wrong. As we are fond of saying in the “patch” “Nobody moves, no-one gets hurt.” And of course, nothing gets done.
Even when something goes wrong that clearly belongs to someone in your team you should be the first in with assessment and remedy and be working to mediate between your staff and your leadership. The bottom line is this; in most cases their failure is really your failure.
I am sure that there are as many ways to do harm to staff as there are policy manuals on the planet. Let me leave you with one last idea on this. Don’t harm your team with what you permit. This may sound strange but we have all done it. When someone gossips about a fellow team member, when someone continually shaves more and more time off each working day with breaks, when someone consistently breaks a safety policy around eye protection or when someone is constantly grousing about company projects or leadership and you permit it you are harming them and your team. When you don’t address these types of behaviors they become unwritten policy. How many times have your kids said to you “but daddy (or mommy) didn’t say anything the last time?”
Your team, no matter how big or small, is your team. Nurture them and be their catalyst for success. You have more influence and power as a leader than you realize, be sure to use it for good and not for harm.