I try to read and listen as much as I can to anything about leadership. Last week The Sewell Family of Companies hosted a leadership event in Wichita Falls, featuring John C. Maxwell. I have read many of Maxwell's books, but have never heard him speak, so reserved a seat at this event. Although there were many excellent takeaways, there was one that I wanted to address today. Mr. Maxwell listed 5 things that he feels if a person does every day, will allow them to live a life of significance. Those 5 things?
- Value people
- Think of ways to add value to people
- Look for ways to add value to people
- Do things that add value to people
- Encourage others to add value to people
I want to talk about the first one, "Value People." If we cannot do that, then it follows that the remaining four won't happen. If people are not valuable, why would we do any of the other steps?
We all say we value people. Our companies say we value our people. We say it because we are expected to. But do we? Really? Because our actions tell a different story.
When we value something, we consider it to be important or beneficial. We have a high opinion of that person or thing. We believe people are important to our company, at least in a philosophical sense, but do we believe they are beneficial or do we have a high opinion of them? If we do, we don't act like it. I cannot tell you how often owners (and even HR people) talk employees down. We talk about them being lazy, disloyal, without work ethic, dishonest, etc. No doubt, some are. I would argue that most are not. Instead I think we get what we expect. People live up to our expectations. If we constantly tell people in words and actions they are not valuable to us, they will tend to give us exactly what we tell them we expect. A few will excel in spite of us.
Some of us are smart enough not to voice comments about how we feel about our employees, but our actions speak strongly--in fact, even if we are telling people how important they are and how much we value them, if our actions tell a different story, our employees will believe what we do, not what we say. If we don't "have time to train" people, that says we don't value them enough to increase their value. If our handbook reads like a police state, that tells employees we believe they are dishonest and lazy. If an employee comes to talk to us about a problem and we continue to read our email while they are trying to explain the issue, that says they and their problem are not important enough for you to listen. If an employee has a suggestion to make a process work better, but are told "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," that tells them their creative and problem solving skills are neither valued nor wanted. Employees are not going to continue to try to push the rope up hill.
If you want gold from people, treat them like they are gold. There will be a few that in spite of your efforts will not live up to your expectations. Fine. Help them move on to other opportunities. The rest will reward you for your efforts.