Given enough support, any human being has virtually limitless power. Each person in your organization is unique and has an irreplaceable set of gifts, talents, skills, and passions that cannot be found anywhere else. Too many leaders have the pernicious paradigm that people are interchangeable, that one worker equals another, that they can easily replace one person with another person. They see a person as an asset, like a computer or a tractor or a robot, easily traded on the market.
It’s common in business to speak of people as assets (although they’re considered expenses on the income statement), and leaders often toss out the dull cliché that “our people are our most important assets.” But people are not assets. An asset is something you own—a human being cannot be owned, bought, sold, traded, swapped, exchanged, or returned like a machine.
Too many leaders treat people like machines. You can buy a car, fuel it, wash it occasionally, and take it in once a year for scheduled maintenance and keep it running without much thought. If something goes wrong, you can get it fixed or trade it in for a new one. Often leaders do the same with people: they buy a worker, pay her, and bring her in once a year for a performance review to make sure she is “doing what it takes” to achieve the organization’s productivity goals. If something goes wrong, they get her fixed (send her over to HR) or trade her in for a new one. Then the leader wonders why that employee is not as excited or motivated to give a little “extra effort.”
The mindset that an employee is an interchangeable cog in the machine is the most important reason why people are disengaged in the workplace, refusing to give the “extra effort.” That’s why the most important job to be done now is to replace that paradigm with a new paradigm: That every person is uniquely powerful. Your job as a leader is to unleash that power.
For years now, the mantra of leaders has been “do more with less.” Cut costs, leverage assets, maximize efficiencies—and it’s a good paradigm, as everyone knows. The problem is, it isn’t sufficient anymore. Some leaders even use that mantra to abuse people, loading more and more work on them without giving them the right kind of support. More often, leaders simply don’t understand the principle of leverage.
One person has virtually limitless power, given the right mindset, the right tools, and the right place to stand. Every morning you should ask yourself if you are giving your people what they need to succeed and thrive!
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.