Consult Recruitment NZ > Leadership  > Real Leaders Give People What They Need, Not What They Want

Real Leaders Give People What They Need, Not What They Want

This post is for anyone who manages people, or who hopes to in the future.

It will probably draw some flak too, but that’s because I don’t really believe in generational differences. I think it has been largely hyped and exaggerated. I have had plenty of employees who fit into the so-called ‘Gen Y’ age bracket. And I don’t see the negative characteristics often ascribed to this ‘generation’. Mostly, I see hard working, highly focused individuals who want to do well, have fun and make a difference. 

Often, too much talk of how to ‘manage the generations’ leads to skipping over some of the difficult things that need to be done when managing people. And I reckon those things need to be done no matter who you are dealing with.

One of the ways I define great leadership is that the leader actually cares. Bureaucrats do not make leaders. Administrators don’t make leaders either. But before we go any further on the subject of “caring” for our people, a key word of warning on this.

There is too much hype nowadays about the idea that leaders must show concern for their teams. Apparently you have to give a figurative cuddle of support to ‘Gen Y’ staff on the hour or they will resign and go Llama farming in Peru. Codswallop. You cannot fake the fact that you care about the people in the business. There is nothing worse than a manager returning from the latest interpersonal skills training program with “concern” for others beaming from every orifice. It’s not real and everyone knows it’s not real.

Real leaders don’t need training programmes to convince their staff they care. What’s more, real leaders empathise with the people they lead. By this I mean the leader knows their employee does, knows how hard it is and knows the inevitable peaks and troughs.

I have always found it key to any success I have had as a manager, that I have worked as a recruiter myself. I feel the recruiter’s pain to this day. I have had shocking months, offers turned down and phones slammed in my ear.  So I do understand the bruises the job will give you. I also like everyone I work with on an interpersonal level, so I really do care when someone is having a bad month or day.

But some times the empathy you need to have is of the “tough” kind.

Tough empathy means giving your staff what they NEED, not what they want.

That often means telling people things they don’t want to hear, or setting work practices and goals that at first they may not agree with, or like at all. But that’s OK, because tough empathy works – and tough empathy is about what’s needed at a particular point in time, not what’s preferred by the your team. After all, the team may want something, or prefer something else, but they don’t after all ultimately carry the responsibility for the business, do they? You do though.

At its best, what tough empathy means, is a balance between respect for the individual and the business imperative to achieve the task at hand.

So it could mean sitting with an employee who is failing, but who you know can make it. It will mean putting that person on a rehabilitation plan. It means closely managing activities, imposing time management regimes, setting daily goals, and providing intense coaching. It’s confronting and scary for the employee. It’s frankly not that much fun for the leader either. Yes it’s tough. But you are doing it because you care about their success and their future – and at a deep level they know that.

Do you see what I am saying here? The employee knows you are doing something difficult for you, and difficult for her, because you care about what happens to her.  And the power in that dynamic is almost immeasurable.

Some people think that to be a great leader you have to be liked by all. That could not be more untrue. Employees, regardless of  their ‘generation’, are not looking for friends when they look to their boss. They are looking for direction, support, honesty and clarity. And even though they may not know it at first, they may be looking for the occasional dose of tough empathy too.

This post first appeared on The Savage Truth.

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