We’ve all heard quotes and mantras about great leaders.
“Leaders eat last.”
“One voice can change the room.”
“Whenever you do a thing, act as if the whole world is watching.”
“Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.”
“Leadership is not about a title or a designation.”
At the end of the day, quotes are just quotes if we don’t understand what it means to lead. And to truly understand what it means to lead, we must understand people.
We are human, therefore we feel
We know a lot about the human brain. And we know that our brains use emotion to help us make decisions, then logic and gathered information to help back up that emotional feeling. And this is uniquely human.
Emotions evolved thousands of years ago, in a time when our highest need was survival, and help keep us safe. Fear, anger, happiness, sadness, and all their seemingly endless variations, contribute to our well-being. Safety, security, and trust are emotions that rank at the very top.
“Security is both a reality and a feeling…You can be secure even though you don’t feel secure, and you can feel secure even though you’re not really secure.” That’s Bruce Schneier, CTO of IBM Resilience. He’s talking about why hospitals almost universally utilize RFID infant bracelets as a security measure, even though the risk of infant abduction is rare — a 1-in-375,000 chance compared with a 1-in-145 chance of mortality.
For those who are parents, you know the feeling of overwhelming love and responsibility for such a tiny little life. While your newborn may technically be safe from abduction without these bracelets (largely due to effective education for hospital staff, as Schneier cites) you feel much safer every time your newborn is taken out of your sight because of that ID and tracking bracelet. Why? Because of “individual psychological reactions to both the risks and countermeasures.”
In other words, we feel, therefore we’re human. And all humans desire to feel safe.
So where, then, did we get this idea that the workplace should somehow be separate from that?
Good employees feel safe
Labor, whether intellectual or manual, takes effort and energy. It takes knowledge, insight, and confidence. Good employees are good because they feel safe, and the result of feeling safe is trust, cooperation, and great work.
So how do we get more of these good employees? Why do they feel safe?
“Truly good leaders make you feel safe…in my opinion, a safe environment is one were leaders strategically place their employees where they will thrive utilizing their strengths.” – Simon Sinek
Leaders, as Sinek says, set the environment for their employees, and when employees don’t fear for their job — when they have the opportunity to try, and yes, sometimes make mistakes — they become good and even great employees. Together, these employees are capable of work that is greater than anything you could achieve on your own.
Not only that, but when employees feel safe, they start to work harder, take better risks, and feel inspired to achieve something bigger than themselves.
How do you make your employees feel safe?
Show them you care about them
Make sacrifices for them, not of them. “Great leaders,” Sinek says, “would never sacrifice the people to save the numbers. They would sooner sacrifice the numbers to save the people.” Good employees would risk themselves for the greater good, because they see you risk yourself for the greater good.
Give them what they need to grow and be their best. While this will be different for each individual employee, in general, that looks like support, opportunity, education, and discipline as needed and without fear.
Place them in opportunities to thrive
We often have employees who are great workers, but whose skills don’t match their current role. Great leaders see this person as a person and as valuable, and they either help them thrive in a current role or help them find a role where they will thrive because of their strengths.