While planning a webinar series for a client recently, I asked a group of leaders what they would like me to cover over the course of eight sessions. One leader said, "We have a bunch of employees who just don't care. They don't bring any passion for working. They want to be paid just for showing up each day."
I smiled and asked the gentleman and the other leaders if they had an open mind. Little did they know that 99% of the time, when I present that question to leaders, people say yes. This time was no different.
I then shared the story of a presentation I gave many years ago, titled, Motivating Employees Using Common Sense. Before the presentation, the HR professional who'd hired me offered some insight into one of the participants who would be there. The HR professional said that this person would likely give me a hard time and that I should not worry about hurting their feelings or even using them to make a point. In the training business, we call that kind of unwilling participant a hostage. At any rate, I thanked the HR professional for the scouting report.
At the outset of my presentation, I asked the group, “How many of you don’t want to be here today?” I suppose you could say it was my way of breaking the ice with the hostage I’d been warned about, as well as a way to find out if there were more similarly minded leaders were also in the audience.
Predictably, the hostage shot their hand straight up, along with a few others. Then, I said, "If any of you don't want to be here today, who do you have a debate with? If you think it is me, I just figured out why you are here today! If you do not want to be here, your problem is with the person who asked you to be here. Make their life miserable if you must, but please be respectful to me and others here today. I'm here to make your jobs as leaders easier."
The hostage seemed a bit blindsided. He piped up and asked what I could possibly do to make his life as a manager easier. I thanked him for his very valid question and asked what the most concerning problem is facing his team. He replied that many of his employees were demotivated. Seeking to understand his situation better, I asked if he felt responsible for the attitude of his problematic employees.
He thought for a moment and said, “It is hard to find good people these days!” I found his response interesting, so I asked why he felt compelled to throw his employees under the bus and wash his hands of any responsibility for their current attitudes. Now he was really taken off-guard. Realizing that he was ready to hear a hard truth, I said, “In my professional opinion, you want to play the victim. You feel as though you are entitled to motivated employees.”
I let him sit with that as I explained to all the assembled leaders the serious obligations he and everyone else in the audience had to fulfill in their role as managers. If any of them was unwilling or unable to perform their duties, they could not sit here and complain about the attitude of their employees. I wound up that part of our conversation by saying, "The next two hours will significantly benefit your team, your career, and the folks who brought me here today because the buck stops with you! “
You see, there is an expression that leaders love to ask: “Why don’t employees just do what they are supposed to do?” And while it is true that sometimes poor performance is due to inadequate training, substandard equipment or materials, or even personality conflicts, more often than not, poor performance is due to a leader not fulfilling his or her obligations.
I will end this blog the same way I started the webinar series with the group of leaders who felt entitled to have motivated employees consistently at their beck and call. Ask yourselves this: Leaders, are you being impacted by the work environment, or can you influence the work environment? It never ceases to amaze me how often leaders are unwilling to look in the mirror and ask what their role might be in the performance of their employees. You see, leaders are MADE, not born.