It was a Father’s Day message at my church yesterday, simply laying out three qualities of fatherhood that shape the lives of children forever. But I was struck by how relevant the principles are to organizational leaders—men and women—in an era when the human factor is often forgotten or diminished.
Trust. We assent to its importance, but do we really know what earns and sustains trust? In an era where speed (and the expediency that can come with it) seems to be the norm, are we patient enough to realize it takes time and experience for people to trust us? Do we ever honestly explore where we stand on that quality? Do we consciously and persistently seek to build and bank that asset? Net out: If the occasion arises when you simply have no choice but to ask employees to trust you with a decision or direction, would they?
Grace. The old-fashioned notion of forgiveness — knowing that we, too, are not perfect — is powerful tonic at times when failure is all too evident, especially to the person who failed. To exercise grace when your positional power gives you every right to exercise judgment most often leads a good person to work all the harder to not disappoint again. Sure, there is a time to call out and deal with a pattern of failure, but I have seen cultures decimated by “zero-tolerance” policies for error, a reign of fear. The exercise of grace — consistently, across the organization — is observed by others who will take ownership of your vision and step out boldly knowing that you have their back if they take an intelligent risk.
Honor. Forget all the complex, institutional reward and recognition programs. If you want to light up your team and your company, take the time to rummage around and learn something about your people as individuals and direct your praise to who they are as people, not just the work they perform. This get deeply “parental,” but do your people feel you are brimming with pride over them, do they feel your delight, do they feel you are genuinely thrilled to be able to work alongside them?
CEO or business owner as parent-in-chief? Really? Yes. Not in the same sense of “raising kids” or breaking up food fights. But there is a familial element to the best company cultures, one in which there is a strong emotional bond between employees and their leaders, and with the qualities he or she represents. People respond in some amazing ways when they feel they belong, when they feel they are part of “something,” when they feel they are working for real people who understand them as real people.