In my last column, I said that too many managers are still stuck in an Industrial Age mindset that treats people as things. Many think we’ve put the Industrial Age behind us and that we’re in a new “Age of the Knowledge Worker.” They think the bad old days of robotic workers and hierarchical mindlessness are over. But these damaging attitudes persevere—in some ways worse than ever. Consider these instances:
- The fast-food worker whose cash register blinks “too slow” if an order takes too many seconds.
- The nurse required to wear a “locator badge” that rings every few minutes, even when trying to calm a patient or put a child to sleep.
- The required annual performance review system that creates division, destroys morale and motivates people to leave.
During the Industrial Age, a worker at least had a supervisor to talk to. In many cases today supervision is done digitally and long distance. Contrast this kind of dehumanizing management with the kind of leadership that truly leverages the worker as a whole person—one who values the minds, hearts and spirits of his people. Now, consider these instances:
- The pizzeria manager who huddles with his employees once a week and asks, “What could we do this week that we’ve never done before?”
- The Navy captain who interviews each sailor to find out about his or her most cherished dreams in life.
- The division head who deeply understands what each of her people is really good at—and capitalizes on it.
A deep understanding of your people as whole people is where 8th-habit leadership starts. Many leaders make minimal use of the capacity of their people, seeing them only as job descriptions. They fail to see each person as a unique and precious asset, loaded with untapped potential.
By contrast, great leaders treat their people as whole people—not just a human resource. The whole person has four dimensions: the body (physical capability), the heart (passion), the mind (knowledge and skills) and the soul (meaning and purpose).
A leader who neglects any of these dimensions inevitably treats people as things. If the leaders neglect the hearts of their people, they will never engage their passions for their work. If they neglect their employees’ minds, they will never capitalize on their innovative ideas. All great leaders attend to all four dimensions of the whole person if they hope to truly lead them—and to leverage their great capacities.
Capt. Mike Abrashoff exemplifies a great 8th-habit leader. He inherited a ship that was figuratively sinking. When he took command of the USS Benfold, the Navy warship had the worst performance record in the fleet. Within a couple years, the Benfold turned in the best performance record in the fleet.
How did Abrashoff do it? By getting to know his people—deeply and thoroughly. He interviewed all of his sailors, asking about their hopes, dreams, frustrations, goals, likes and dislikes. He discovered that many wanted college degrees, so he arranged for long-distance learning opportunities. His sailors hated painting the ship, so he modified the deck plating to cut back on painting. He got their brains working on doing things differently, better and faster.
To become an 8th-habit leader, you must find your voice and help others find theirs. Hear their voices and ask them about the four dimensions of their lives—at least once, maybe often:
- Body: Is your “economic engine” in good shape? Are your family’s needs being met?
- Heart: What have you always loved doing? What job-related opportunities are you passionate about?
- Mind: What are you really good at? What opportunities do you see for growth?
- Spirit: Do you have peace of conscience? What contribution would you love to make here? What is something of real meaning to you?
Think of the power of leaders who know these things about their people—about their untapped passions and skills. A leader who doesn’t know the answers to these questions is like the farmer who doesn’t know he is scratching out a living on top of an acre of diamonds.
Stephen R. Covey, Ph.D., is co-founder of FranklinCovey, a leading global training and retail firm. He is also author of the best-selling “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “The 8th Habit.” Stephen can be reached at email@example.com.