Beavers, Rats, and One Enormous Caveat
What if my people truly are sneaky rats rather than self-motivated beavers?
These posts are about the attitude of leadership to its workers, and what that attitude means in terms of control-versus-support of said people. They’re posts on the psychology of leadership, much less about the workers than about the leaders themselves.
But I have a vital caveat to these posts, which is this: not all workers are high-quality, eager, hard-working “beavers.” They aren’t, and much of that isn’t management’s fault. Employees come to us fully human, and we humans are an incredibly diverse bunch. So how can we treat everyone as self-motivated beavers? Won’t doing so be the end of our careers, maybe even our companies?
I ran my own company for several years. In that time, we had phenomenal staff and staff that was far less than stellar, and all in between. I learned that some people were terrific in one role and wholly inept in another. I found that some people thrived when we developed their goals together and I then got out of their way, while others actually preferred some amount of oversight, from light guidance to very close indeed. Age, experience, personality: all of these and more come into play with each person’s need along the control-versus-autonomy continuum, and throughout their career these needs will change and change again.
Managers must manage, and there is probably no harder task in the entire world of work. It’s hardest because cookie-cutters do not apply to humans. To manage well, you must engage your entire brain, your creative right side much more than your analytical left.
But this fact remains: the quality of talent you attract, engage, and keep, is indeed entirely up to your talent as a a manager, as a leader.
Your talent will grow over your career, as long as you don’t get jaded or burnt out. The organization you work for will have a huge impact on the caliber of workers you attract, engage, and keep, and unless you’re the chairman or CEO, much of that will be beyond your control.
So here is the enormous caveat to my two prior posts: not all people are equally talented or equally self-motivated; not all people are beavers. To blindly assume they are means certain failure.
But so what? Leave that problem to your competitors.
You don’t need to employ the entire available workforce, just a tiny sliver of it. From your very first day on the job, assume that your existing staff are already eager beavers, and treat them with the respect any beaver deserves. Even many former slackers will surprise you by rising to your invitation to shine!
Lead from a place of support and respect, and you’ll have the pick of the employment pool. Let your competitors have the leftovers.
Some other time, we’ll talk about turning an organization around. It’s an important discussion to have, because most of us are not company founders starting with a blank slate; most leaders walk into an organization whose employees have been on hand for a while. In these cases, who knows what your existing talent pool offers, or how turned off that talent may have become by your predecessors? Implementing a successful culture change is a much, much harder task than building a team from scratch. Still, your own prejudices – your own leadership worldview – will affect your chances from the very first day.
Leaders, protect your own mind most of all. Don’t get cynical about human nature. Your success depends on it!
Graphic by Shawn Murphy