Love your employees

Nov 17, 2003

It’s always distasteful to compare your employees to your children. I hear firm owners do it all of the time, and I see the non-owners cringing when they do! That said, I have noticed a parallel. There are some parents who constantly complain about their children. They gripe about teenagers being sloppy or disrespectful or untrustworthy. They gripe about their younger kids spending too much time on the computer or in front of a television set instead of studying. They complain about kids of all ages not helping out around the house enough and not being appreciative of all they have. These parents gripe, complain, and talk badly about their kids as if that’s OK. And they are perfectly willing to share these complaints with other parents. I can tell you now that that’s not the way I was raised. And it’s not the way I am raising my children, either. That would have really upset me to have parents like that. Instead, I knew I was loved and trusted, even when I did something stupid (and occasionally I did just that… like the time I was doing a Burt Reynolds imitation and ran my car off the road in a power slide, inadvertently giving our local chief of police a “lawn job!”). When you treat kids like this with constant criticism and a lack of trust, it’s no wonder to me these parents get more of what they expect back out of these kids. It’s certainly no way to have a close relationship where you can really find out what’s going on in the child’s life. But when you treat them with love, they tell you what they are thinking. They work hard to please you. And they learn to have a conscience and do the right thing when you aren’t there to tell them what to do. The thought occurred to me that many owners and managers are doing the same thing to their employees that these other, not-so-great parents are doing to their children. And they are getting back exactly what you would expect from their workers! You have to love your people to get the best out of ‘em. Here’s more of my thinking: Trust. If you delegate something to an employee, you have to trust that they will do the job properly. If you give someone the responsibility for a particular role, you have to let them do the job without constant interference. Knowing when to make a suggestion for how to do something is a lot different from just telling someone how to do it, also. If you don’t show trust, you aren’t showing love. Respect. Cursing someone out publicly or behind their backs to other employees is just not respectful. Nor is it respectful to commandeer their talent without consulting them, as many principals in A/E firms tend to do. Showing respect is part of love. Dignity. Consideration for face-saving in the event a change in role is necessary is just one example of allowing the other person to maintain dignity. It will be appreciated by all— the person being reassigned and the rest of the firm as well. Referring to your employees as “the help” is an example of not allowing your employees to have dignity. No self-respecting person would tolerate it. Lack of arbitrariness. I’m talking about not just saying “no” because you can to an employee’s request to go in the hole on vacation, or go to a seminar that is not budgeted, or do something that in some way is not exactly part of current company policy. If you want to show love to your people, you need to be a little flexible at times. Consideration. If you consult employees before making major changes in the organization structure, policies, or work environment, they will be more likely to appreciate it than if you don’t. Asking for permission, getting an opinion, and keeping everyone informed are essential if employees are going to feel loved and give their best. Forgiveness. Employees will, occasionally, do something dumb. Sometimes these mistakes justify the wrath of the boss. On the other hand, the mark of a real leader is forgiveness. If you cannot forgive, you can’t really love, and the difference in being able to build a company or not may come down to just this. Accolades. Passing along the credit to others is one of the best ways to show your love. Being able to say good things about others when they are deserved to them, both publicly and privately, is a necessary attribute for leaders who are serious about loving their people. As the old song says, “To get love, you’ve gotta give love.” Ditto for the old adage, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.” Love your employees and they will give it back to you and then some. Originally published 11/17/03

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