Every boss, every manager and every company pays lip service to leading their people by empowerment and positive reinforcement. It's much like the weather. Everyone talks about it but few really do anything about it.
"They swear they believe in the carrot not the stick," one ex-manager told me of his former employer. "But a lot of people seem to be getting brutalized by that carrot." "Brutalized" is actually my word. The phrase he used was considerably more graphic - and painful to imagine.
He showed me several post cards from his former co-workers. One read, "The flogging will continue until morale improves." Another quoted Steven Wright, "For every action there is an equal and opposite criticism."
I was reminded of a construction company vice president who, a few years back, hired me to deliver a presentation on the benefits of empowerment at a management meeting. The session was very well received; the vice president himself was so inspired that he immediately leaped up and told all his managers that they'd better be empowered from that moment on, "Or believe me heads are going to roll." He added, in all seriousness, "Just make sure you clear everything with me first."
"He just empowered them to do nothing but claim to be empowered," one of the other speakers whispered to me.
"Not quite," I said. "He ordered them to claim to be empowered."
If you're managing people, try treating those you manage as partners not peons. As Booker T. Washington observed, "Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know you trust him."
"Management is simple," one award-winning leader claims. "I create incentives, small rewards, recognitions. I believe in my people, and I show them how much I believe in them. I get them to want to live up to my high opinion, and then I give them the freedom to do just that."
We all need to be appreciated. There's a joke about a guy who's stranded on a tiny desert island. One day he's walking on the beach and he stumbles across a woman, washed up just above the surf line. She's in bad shape and as he reaches her, she stops breathing. Quickly he administers mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. After a few frightening seconds, she starts breathing again and opens her eyes.
"You saved my life," she insists gratefully.
She brushes the hair back from her face. That's when he realizes that he's stranded on a desert island with the biggest box office star and the most gorgeous and most famous beauty of the day. To avoid litigation, we'll call her Tasmalia Thistlemore.
Time passes. The island is lush and warm, with plenty of fruit. They build a comfortable hut. It's like Eden. Tasmalia falls deeply in love with him, and making love becomes their major form of entertainment. Then one day, she notices he looks depressed. She asks him what could possibly be wrong in such an idyllic existence.
"Is there anything I can do?" she asks.
"Well, actually," he replies, "there is something."
"Would you mind putting on my shirt?"
That puzzles her, but she says, "Of course not," and puts on the shirt.
"Now could you put on my pants?"
"Sure, if you think it will make you feel better."
"Good. Now put on my coat and draw a mustache on your face." She goes along with that too. Then he says, "Now, would you please start walking down the beach and head around the island?"
She starts out, and he sets off in the opposite direction. Fifteen minutes later they meet on the far side of the island.
He rushes up to her, grabs her by the shoulders and says, "Man, you will never believe who I'm living with!"
We all need appreciation and recognition. Appreciate your people. Help them discover their self worth and their potential.