If deep down inside you feel that there is really no solution to your current challenges, then you are being blinded by your own fear. If this is your position, the prognosis is not good. Your days are going to feel as if you are permanently trapped in a nightmare, unable to escape.
Think for a minute about your employees and be truthful in answering this question: “If you had to fire and rehire, how many of your present employees would you allow to return to duty?” If you would rehire most of your employees…that’s a good sign. If however you are having difficulty deciding on the TWO who should return – you’re in big trouble!
Do your present employees give you pause? Do you feel as if they’ll probably NEVER “get it” but you’re stuck with them so you MUST endure?
Parker J. Palmer a writer, teacher, and activist who works independently on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality, and social change in an essay on ‘The Formation of Teachers’ described students this way: “Students have a bad reputation these days. Too many teachers, when asked to name the major obstacle to good teaching, will say, “My students.” They will describe their students as either passive and disengaged from the learning process (even brain-dead) or actively hostile to it. If you press these teachers to explain how students got this way, you often hear the same diagnoses that are popular in the mass media: public education fails to teach youngsters the basics; TV creates people with short attention spans who want to be entertained rather than taught; family breakdown leaves children without a readiness to learn and without basic values; etc. Too many teachers view their charges with thinly veiled hostility—and too many of them want to blame their problems on factors that are external to education or are located somewhere “upstream.”
Wouldn’t you be inclined to name the major obstacle to your leading your division, department, or entire organization to success as “my employees”? And are some of the reasons the teachers gave for their students’ disengagement the same ones you use to justify WHY employees are the way they are these days?
So given this situation your own solution is to use fear. Fear is the only control you have. If you’re ever opposed you quickly remind employees that the gate/door/ is over there, and it doesn’t revolve. You use the threat of dismissal, reminding them how difficult it is to get jobs these days and how grateful they should be to be in possession of one. You promote those who do exactly as you say without bucking your system and punish those employees who choose to speak up or have a differing opinion from your own. Sure you may have a point – but how is that working for the business? In this kind of environment you get disengaged, disenchanted employees. In this kind of environment there is little creativity and zero innovation. Running your business/department/division feels like rolling a heavy cast iron ball up hill and if you only relax your grip, the ball rolls back to the foot of the hill and you have to start over again – from scratch!
No wonder you feel burnt out and frustrated. There must be another way but fear isn’t it. Parker Palmer says “Fear, not ignorance, is the enemy of learning, and it is fear that gives ignorance its power. Indeed, fear is the counterpoint of every great and good human virtue: fear, not doubt, is the counterpoint of faith; fear, not hate is the counterpoint of love; fear, not greed, is the counterpoint of generosity; fear, not betrayal, is the counterpoint of trust. It is fear that deforms our lives; it is fear that saps all the great virtues of their power to reform our lives.” Think about that for a moment.
Employees will begin to feel marginalized in a fear based environment and will go silent on you. No feedback – zilch! And this is not because they are brain-dead. It is because they are afraid to speak because you don’t want to hear them. Perhaps – you are too afraid yourself, to risk hearing them because there might be some truth in what they’re saying, and you are not prepared to address any of that.
See what a horrible web of deceit fear weaves with little or no positive, profitable progress? When you’re fearful you are defensive, close-minded, unwilling to see any other point of view and only focused on covering your butt, tracks and any other parts that need covering in the process.
If you want to start turning things around, consider becoming a little more curious. Sam Luce, a children’s pastor describes curious leaders as leaders who respond from a position of wanting to gather information and trying to understand. Whether it is negative feedback, a missed opportunity, or the future direction of the organization, this leader is interested and inquisitive, wondering not if this will be solved, but how.
He gives us the following 9 questions to ensure that we’re NOT leading from a place of fear:
1. Am I asking more questions than I am answering?
2. Am I looking for input or validation?
3. Am I willing to take risks that will make me look foolish?
4. Do I filter ideas by thinking if this will get me in trouble or fired?
5. Am I approachable?
6. Can my team say anything to me without fear of reprisal from me?
7. Do I still find joy in the simple things?
8. Am I always looking for a better way to do something that works?
9. Am I empowering others to lead and giving them the space to fail so they can succeed?
If you choose to cling to the belief that employees are the reason for your lack of success then where will that get you? To paraphrase Parker on his discourse around teachers, cynicism is a way of saying to your employees “Who needs you? I am your boss and I have power over your lives: your opinions make no difference to me at all. I will suffer your presence because I have no other choice but to keep you employed, but I will not enter into any sort of relationship with you that requires me to take you seriously.”
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