One morning at the airport, I overheard an employee talking about her new boss. “He’s a nice guy, ” she said. “He makes me feel good about working here. ”
Like many employees, this young woman is more influenced by her boss’s “soft” skills than his technical skills. His interpersonal skills were what mattered most: including his ability to communicate, motivate and showing genuine concern. These interpersonal traits influence people to decide to quit or stay. When a manager lacks these skills, or actively cultivates their hard-edged opposite, workers who have choices will jump ship or lower their productivity.
I experienced this myself when I went into the military service right after college. My boss was a special person—a great boss. An experienced veteran and a former Special Forces medic, he was the type of person who always put the needs of others before his own.
One night I pulled duty that required me to stay up all night on New Year’s Eve. It was a night that seemed it would never end. I was tired and miserable. Saturday morning, when I still had several more hours to go, the phone rang. It was Joe, my boss. He asked if I had plans for lunch and that his wife had made something and wanted to bring it over to me. While I don’t remember what food they brought over, it was a meal I never forgot.
That one small act of kindness showed me he cared. It taught me more about leadership than all the degrees and diplomas hanging on my wall. It confirmed the truth of the old military saying, “If you take care of your troops, your troops will take care of you. ” It’s still true today, no matter what kind of business you are in.
The older I get and the more I see reinforces that leadership techniques and fads change with the times, but caring about individuals holds constant. Caring for people can’t be faked or replaced.
On the other hand, no manager should be a pushover. A caring manager must also be respected. He or she must be able to generate results.
Soon after my boss treated me to that special meal, he gave me the worst chewing out I’d ever had. I deserved it and did something to deserve it. It hurt more—and made a deeper impression on me—because of the respect I had for him. When you respect someone, you always value what he or she has to say.
Businesses that do a good job selecting, training, and developing their managers will enjoy higher productivity and lower turnover. While it’s hard to measure the impact soft skills have on productivity, I strongly believe an employee who feels good about working for a company or a boss will want to contribute much more than the minimum acceptable level.
In the years I led people, I never met an “average” worker—only people I saw the potential to become much better. I think it was General Omar Bradley who said, “There are no such thing as bad soldiers, only bad leaders. ” Sure-the workplace has its share of problematic and difficult to manage individuals. There are many bad managers. But what I notice is good managers are able to transform difficult people into better people. Exceptional workers have exceptional managers as their leaders. The only difference between the two groups is the quality of the leader.
I imagine my first boss saw me as an “average” individual with a short attention span, high maintenance, inexperienced, and scattered brained. Fortunately for me, he took the time to train and develop me, even though it often frustrated him. He was a true leader. He understood leadership of people is a transformation process, and with the right tools and a willing attitude, he could make the transformation happen.
Gregory P. Smith
Greg Smith helps organizations accelerate workplace performance. He is a nationally recognized speaker and author. He has written five books including his latest, Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High Turnover to High Retention. Greg has been featured on Bloomberg News, PBS television, and in publications including Business Week, USA Today, Kiplinger's, President and CEO, and the Christian Science Monitor. He is the President of a management-consulting firm, Chart Your Course International, located in Atlanta, Georgia. Phone him at 770-860-9464. More articles available: http://www.chartcourse.com