The principle: Humans crave independence and control so giving it to them at work should be a good thing.
The caveat: As people feel increasingly autonomous, they can also become unmoored from others’ needs, expectations and social norms.
Research results: Managers who value being respected will respond to empowerment initiatives by, in turn, empowering their workers. But, managers who value being in charge will respond to empowerment initiatives by closely controlling and dominating their employees.
In other words, empowerment can lead to more autonomous employees, but micromanagers will micromanage.
Frustration is of course the natural response — and one we all can identify with. Especially if the mistake hurts an important project or reflects badly upon us.
The traditional approach is to reprimand the employee in some way. The hope is that some form of punishment will be beneficial: it will teach the employee a lesson. However, some managers choose a different response when confronted by an underperforming employee: compassion and curiosity. Not that a part of them isn’t frustrated or exasperated but they are able to suspend judgment and may even be able to use the moment to do a bit of coaching.
What does research say is best? The more compassionate response will get you more powerful results. The more employees look up to their leaders and are moved by their compassion or kindness, the more loyal they become to them. Conversely, responding with anger or frustration erodes loyalty. (Harvard Business Review)
There is probably something in your personal experience that confirms this. I know there were plenty of instances in mine.
From the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.
Given our current circumstances after six months of the pandemic, and not being anywhere near a new normal, you would think that we would be sensitive to the realities of the people around us. Well, according to Scientific American, it turns out we’re not.
Empathy is a powerful force and human beings need it. Here are three things that might help to remedy our collective empathy deficit:
- Take the time to ask those you encounter how they are feeling, and really listen. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Remember that we all tend to underestimate other people’s emotional distress, and we’re most likely to do so when those people are different from us.
- Remind yourself that almost everyone is at the end of their rope these days. Many people barely have enough energy to handle their own problems, so they don’t have their normal ability to think about yours.
- Finally, be aware that what is empathy for one person may not be empathy for another person. It’s not a concept that speaks for itself. Asking your friends, family, and coworkers what empathy is for them might open a new door to understanding and helping those around us.
I don’t follow my newsletter’s stats. I put out what I think is useful information for my readers and they comment on what works and what doesn’t. Also, I often post links to articles that readers themselves send me (keep ’em coming!).
I don’t follow my newsletter’s stats but I received an email from the platform that one link in particular in last month’s newsletter was clicked a lot more than others. It is to an article in Fortune by Laura Vanderkam titled “Working from home poses serious dangers for employers and employees alike.” It seems to have hit a nerve, what with people working from home…
Here’s Laura’s answer:
Netflix isn’t the real danger. The real danger is that without a physical separation between work and the rest of life, people won’t ever stop working—risking burnout, which has huge costs for employees and their organizations. Wise managers address this, rather than worrying that people will slack the second they aren’t being watched.
Asking employees how they are –how they really are– goes a long way in building rapport and establishing credibility.