A recent trend in work-related social circles is the open criticism towards profit over human bond and empathy. And while I do value the fellow humans I am privileged to work with above all else, I sense a touch of ignorance in what I read, if only because they openly claim that negligence for the bottom-line is the only way to prioritize people.
First, some facts: companies need to be profitable to survive (duh). Companies also need to survive to employ people (double-duh). And the basis of capitalism, a flawed system that has nonetheless spawned the fastest phase of social and technological development in human history, is that members of its society must have the means to participate in it: there is no Apple if people are unable to increase their wealth to afford an iPhone.
But that doesn’t mean you need to be a dick to do it 🙄
You see, taking good care of people is not only good for, well, the people, it’s also good business. A standard employee in a service providing company takes an average of three months to be properly onboarded and reach the company’s average expected output, even longer to develop her-/himself further and provide the company with growth opportunities through her/his unique skill proposition. Hiring people is an expensive activity and making them good at their job is a not-to-be-underestimated investment in effort and money.
But this doesn’t mean that leadership must become a popularity contest. “Nobody will remember your corporate title, your car, your salary…” blablabla. First of all, you’re not there to be remembered, but to play a role in helping your collaborative effort reach its goals… Second, humans have an intrinsic need to be important, to be meaningful, and people trust their leaders to enable them to do so. Furthermore, different people react better to different forms of leadership, so if it doesn’t dwell into demeaning behavior and other forms of disrespect, there is no evidence that assertive leadership is counterproductive to the development of the individual.
And there is more: an inauthentically cuddly boss is not taking care of his colleagues. My article on asking for help gave some insights into the development of trust in your professional circle to allow for an honest and healthy culture of failure in a team. That article reminded me of a discussion I had with other members of middle-management of an old employer of mine, one that was swarmed by cuddly leaders. The argument was being made for “preserving harmony because we were working among friends”. That’s missing the point on so many levels, but mostly, that the difference between a true friend and a colleague is the harshness you can apply to any shortcomings they might have and the interest you have in fostering, developing and working on that relationship.
Everybody in a company, or any collaborative effort, should be pulling in the same direction. That means caring for one another, but more than that, it means that all should be striving to be better, the best at what they can be. And that needs guidance, some of which can be played at eye level, some of which warrants a symbolic slap in the face, upon which time the role of the receiver becomes much more important than the one of the giver. A friend will receive that slap in the face reflect on whether or not he deserved it and either tell you to go fuck yourself (where you then become the receiver) or invest in becoming a better friend. I’m not saying collaboration should become a swearing contest, but rather that the mutual interest in fostering a relationship and seeking a common goal is not helped by the exaggerate sensitivity of the workforce towards a harshly given constructive feedback.
The fact of the matter is that people together work better than people against each other… But you should constantly question what it means to work together. Being a leader is much more about having the role of being a leader than standing over the people you lead. While one person takes out the trash, the other one writes code, that one emits the invoices, the role of being a leader only means that she or he carries the responsibility of providing guidance to others. And a flat hierarchy shouldn’t mean that you’re able to call Mr. Rogers “Hank”, but rather that there is a common understanding of the fact that delivering product, organizing the payroll are just as important a role as leading and guiding others.
Long story short: it’s not about how cuddly leaders are, but rather about all knowing what their role is in the collaborative effort.