The Marine Corps taught me that leaders have two jobs. One is to accomplish the mission. The other is to care for the people.
Great leaders do both jobs well. When that happens, performance today is great, and the stage is set for great performance tomorrow. Caring for the people helps the organization remain strong and competent for the future.
Accomplishing the mission is obvious. What about caring for the people? How do you do that? Here are some ideas.
Care for The People by Letting Them Be Human
People aren’t parts. Let them be human and they can do great work.
Mistakes are part of the game. When most people make a mistake, they realize it and know what they need to do to fix it. Mistakes will happen. Most of them won’t be serious.
Human beings have good days and bad days. Recognize it. Make allowances on the bad days. Celebrate the good ones.
Work is only part of life. When people have a crisis or a celebration in the rest of life, it affects the way they are at work. If you ever worked with a person going through a personal crisis, you know that you can’t keep it out of the workplace. Allow for it. Adjust to it.
Care for the People by Keeping Them Safe
Keep them safe from you. Nominally, you’re in charge. That doesn’t give you the right to mess with people’s lives. Remember, your whims and ideas are only part of the mix.
Keep people safe from The Powers That Be. When someone higher up on the org chart gets a dumb idea or has a bad day, trouble usually flows down the chart. Part of your job as a leader is to protect the people on your team from the idiocies above them. One leader I worked with put it this way: “Your job is to be the crap umbrella for your team.”
Keep them safe from each other. Bad actors corrode productivity and morale. Remember this: problems are like dinosaurs. They’re easy to deal with when they’re small, but they can grow big enough to eat you and your Land Rover. Catch problems early. Deal with them promptly.
Care for The People by Helping the Team Be Productive
People want to do important work with people they like. That means your job is more like a gardener than an engineer. Create the environment where relationships deepen and good work happens.
What you’re going for is psychological safety. Dr. Laura Delizonna described psychological safety this way in the Harvard Business Review: “psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off.”
Make sure team members have the resources they need. It’s frustrating not to be able to do good work because you don’t have something important. Resources include money, equipment, and time. Think of permission as a resource, too. Easy access to information is essential for knowledge workers.
Don’t look for a great working environment, listen for it. When people are doing important work with people they like, you usually hear easy conversation and laughter.
Care for The People by Helping Them Make Progress
Human beings want to make progress. We all want to do a little better today than we did yesterday. So, help every team member make a little progress every day. It might be progress on a work project, or progress on developing competence.
Help team members achieve their personal goals. Sometimes, those personal goals will have nothing to do with work. That’s okay. Your job is to help them succeed. They’ll decide what success means.
Coaching is your most powerful tool for helping team members make progress. Make it a core leadership practice. Develop your coaching skill. Get a little better every day.
Caring for the people is one of your two leadership jobs. Let your people be human at work. Keep them safe from you, senior management, and each other. Help the team be productive. Help individual team members make progress.
The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
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