When you think about it, “managing” your team can be a distasteful concept.

It’s built on the presumption that you have control over what they do, and are smart enough to direct their every move. Most experienced managers realize this control-and-compliance model gets just the minimum acceptable level of contribution.

And sometimes not even that.

Human beings deserve respect, and that doesn’t disappear when they enter the workplace. They have feelings, motivations, needs and are unpredictable. They have lives that they care about deeply.

Think about all the places where you contribute your effort and money without even being paid:  hobbies, charity, family, friendships, recreation …. If it really was all about exchanging your work for money, why would you even consider wasting time on these things?

Because you’re human. You deserve more than just work. You care.

So enlightened businesses have replaced the concept of “managing” with “leading.” They might reframe their “employees” as “associates” or “partners.” But the words have to matter; they need to represent a shift in the way an organization works.

The basic principles of leadership are:

  • People want to do good work, and work is a respectful vocation.
  • Workers’ needs and desires should be considered, if only because it dramatically improves results for them and the entire organization.
  • People are drawn to contribute to a purpose larger than themselves, and tapping this motivation skyrockets productivity.
  • People are intelligent and fully capable of making their own decisions, so a leader’s job is to steer that in the direction that delivers greatest overall value.

Sure, you can find exceptions to each of these. But on the whole, this works better than a control-and-comply approach.

But don’t throw out control entirely. This is an art, because we’re working with real people here.

This is the kind of control that works well with a self-motivated workforce:

  • Create a compelling purpose and vision for the organization, and stick to it for the long haul. Great companies have an overriding purpose that can last for the entire life of the business.
  • Set up success measures, and monitor them closely and consistently. People will optimize what they perceive they’re measured on, so this helps drive great day-to-day decisions.
  • Work to find the intersection between each worker’s needs and that of the organization as a whole. Hold yourself accountable for joining this dance with each and every employee. It’s dynamic, frustrating, but ever so gratifying when done well.
  • Reward and recognize those who contribute the most to your success. It has to be meaningful, valued and timely in order to be effective. It’s part of the living relationship with each individual, teams and your entire workforce.

In the end, the only real “control” you have is over yourself. Everything else is done through influence and deep relationships.

Be intentional. Be clear. Be consistent. And pull in the people who want to be a part of your journey.


This blog was first published in the InnovatioNews Talent section.

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