VII. Nurture Your Employees

nameko-228854_640“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Think of the people in your life that have had a significant impact on you. It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly they said or did that so dramatically impacted your life, but you remember how you felt when you were with them or thought of them. Employees are people and if you want people to respond positively to your leadership, you will treat them like people.

The act of nurturing – caring for, feeding and protecting – requires more than setting schedules, giving orders and approving time cards. It is the essence of being an exceptional manager. As Gail McGovern, CEO of Red Cross and formerly with AT&T and Fidelity Investments, said, “Your job as a leader is to tap into the power of that higher purpose – and you can’t do it by retreating to the analytical. If you want to lead, have the courage to do it from the heart.”

All too often, managers treat employees like they were nothing but fungible fungi.
Fungible means interchangeable, like commodities of oil or wheat. One is just the same as another. Fungi is the plural of fungus, like mushrooms that live on dead or decaying things. And, most of us are familiar with Mushroom Management – “Keep them in the dark and feed them a lot of manure.”

People are not the same, they are not fungible. They have unique talents, life experience, training and personal issues. People are not like machines. A machine can tolerate a bare minimum of care. If the machine breaks, you can buy the same machine that performs the same tasks in exactly the same way. Managers who see people as fungible pay their employees just enough to keep them from quitting, because the managers believe that if employees leave they can be easily replaced. This perverse sense of reality will ensure that their best employees will leave and the manager will be left with those who can’t find another job.

Neither are people fungi. The best employees want to share in the success of the business. They want to work for managers that discuss the issues of the company and genuinely listen to their input. They are not looking for work/life balance because that denotes a competition between work and their life. They are looking for work/life integration that allows them the flexibility to live normal lives.

One of the most influential philosophies in managing employees, and in managing life, is taught by the Arbinger Institute. This philosophy had a profound impact on me personally, both in my former role as a CEO of a power plant, and in my own family.

The following is my summary of the Arbinger Institute philosophy based on my personal study over the last 15 years. Do I see others as they are – as people or as objects? If I see others as people, I recognize that each has their own life with all the challenges that that entails. I understand that people are individuals who have needs, wants, feelings and are worthy of my consideration.

Or, do I see others as objects – objects of blame? Are they objects that are:
1) Obstacles in my life that make it more difficult for me to get what I want and so I blame them when I don’t get what I want?
2) Vehicles that I can use for my own purposes without regard to what they might need and so I blame them when I can’t use them for my purposes?
3) Irrelevancies that offer me no advantage, so I can just ignore them and I blame them for being an annoyance that I have to tolerate?

Once I see others as people, I can stop justifying my own bad behavior by blaming others, and become a true leader. Consider how different it feels to be complimented or corrected by someone who sees me as a person as opposed to someone who sees me as an object.

Treat your employees as who they truly are, people. They are not fungible fungi to be Mushroom Managed. When you nurture your employees by leading with your heart and making your employees feel that they are appreciated and valued, they will flourish and will be more productive and loyal. You will be an exceptional leader.

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