Dave Conrad: Being human is the greatest leadership trait

Dear Dave: My department is not very large and we all know each other pretty well. Our manager is a very capable manager in a technical sense; but, she seems to have forgotten that we are human beings with feelings and ...

Dear Dave: My department is not very large and we all know each other pretty well. Our manager was an employee of the department and I worked along-side of her for about three years. She is a very capable manager in a technical sense; but, she seems to have forgotten that she and the rest of the department are human beings with feelings and emotions. It almost seems like we are no more than robots to her and she manages in a very rigid way. We don’t dare go to her with any personal problems, because she will think we are weak. Why has she become this way? I want to become a manager, but I certainly do not want to manage this way. Help! — P

Dear P: I wish I could say that your problem is rare; but, in truth, there are way too many managers that have forgotten where they came from and what they, themselves, wanted in a leader. As I have stated in the past, people become managers and they are not handed a "sure fire handbook" of the best ways to manage. They are often told to just dig in and create magical results.

So, they flounder, become scared, and many find that the best way to lead is to be impersonal and do everything — as you have stated — in a technical sense (by the book). They become numbers-driven and lose sight of the fact that developing their staff and giving them a sense of purpose — by providing the most relevant motivation, and by helping to build a culture of togetherness and collaboration — is the best way to lead. They often resort to "command and control" thinking, because it seems like the safest route to results.

Smart managers take a look at the "big picture." This means studying the people, processes, and situational elements present at any particular time. They look beyond just driving their people with threats, pressure tactics, and intimidation and they fully appreciate the fact that people work best and do the most if they feel like they are treated like individual human beings and not just rented mules.

Smart managers are approachable and do not pounce on people when they come with problems (shoot the messenger). They bring out the very best in their employees by educating them, trusting them, showing them respect, and cutting them some slack so they can work, learn, and grow. Managers that have not learned the "human side" of the work that needs to be done will only respond to their employees with more rules and commands when employees come to them. They think it is easier to blurt out orders than to actually have one-to-one dialogues, heart-to-heart conversations, and inspirational meetings with their staff.


More on being human

I believe the power of leadership lies in our abilities to form personal and meaningful bonds with the people whom we lead and the managers that we work with. Employees are not satisfied with only a paycheck, bonuses, and benefits — they want purpose, meaning, fulfillment, and a sense that they and their fellow employees are all in it together doing remarkable work. They also want managers that listen to them — especially in the darkest hours when things are rough and employees are nervous. They want to feel like they can go to their manager at any time without having their heads bitten off.

Leadership is also shown by managers that stay cool under crisis conditions and do not make their employees panic and feel like everything is crashing in. Great leaders show that they are thinking, gathering ideas, assuring people they are important, and also showing they are remaining strategic and not just acting in crisis mode. I think we all have admiration for those who can stay calm and analytical when situations seem out of control. I know I do.

The best leaders will meet and greet their employees early every day and talk to them on a personal level asking them how they are doing and what they can do to help them. They are approachable and their office door is always open. And, they are sincere when they tell their staff they need ideas and remedies.

I often think we make management so much tougher than it should be. As human beings, we are all driven by some very basic needs such as purpose, meaning, fulfillment, human connectedness, and a desire to perform rewarding work. And leaders that truly understand and address these needs, and lead in a way that enables these things to grow, will enable strong loyalty, engagement, and performance.

We must remember one basic credo: as leaders, we must be humans before managers.

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