Published: 27th January 2022
E-Canteen Fundas: As a leader, when you look at people, do you see problems or potential?
To get the best out of your people, manage their energies with a light touch, make them feel in control and allow them the freedom to come with their ideas to the table
‘So, what’s next?’ said Rinku looking at her notebook. ‘We’re all set to go — goals, roles and vision, all in place.’
‘Great,’ said Rahul. ‘Now I hope our team members do their best.’
‘This is the most important aspect of your leadership,’ said Rakesh, laughing. ‘People management. So don’t hope. How you manage people becomes the biggest differentiator for the leader.’
‘Why, bhaiyya? Won’t people deliver according to their capabilities?’ asked Rinku.
‘No Rinku,’ said Rakesh. ‘People are not like machines. They don’t deliver one standard. If you handle a person right, she will go way beyond what she is required to do. On the other hand, if you do not know how to handle them, people will work without any interest and enthusiasm. You may have the best systems and recruit the best resources, but if you do not know how to handle people on your side, your effort will fall flat.’
‘That’s interesting!’ said Rinku. ‘So if they are handled right, people deliver much more than they normally do. How do we do that, bhaiyya?’
‘By learning a few principles of people management,’ said Rakesh. ‘People are energy systems consisting of their beliefs, motivations, desires, fears and doubts. Given the right environment, they will do a good job, deliver their best and earn rewards and recognition. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t treat people like people and treat them like machines. Your job as a leader is to manage the energy of your team in a manner that they will be excited to work for you, for the team. You have to hold the energy of the team. In fact, there is a Chinese proverb that compares the leader to a vessel — the one who contains the energies of the team, who holds it together.’
‘You mean, hold the reins hard?’ asked Rahul. ‘Keep them in control?’
‘That’s a common mistake many leaders make,’ said Rakesh. ‘It’s a fear-based insecure reaction when leaders try to control everyone by the whip. People resent not having a choice, not being in control. They give their best when they feel they are contributing out of choice to something worthwhile — not out of force. This is why the greatest leaders hold the reins, or the energies, lightly, allowing everyone to feel free, using the reins only when members are going off course. A good leader does not hold the reins too hard nor does he abandon them. MS Dhoni was once asked how he led a side full of ex-greats and captains and he said he never made them feel like he was the captain; he made them feel like they were all captains. Hold lightly, guide gently without interfering with everything.’
‘Hold lightly?’ asked Rinku. ‘That’s all?’
‘Yes,’ laughed Rakesh. ‘Most leaders think they have to be doing everything. The thing is, you only have to facilitate the right environment for them. Be around, set the agenda and let them find their way about it.’
‘What is the right environment?’ asked Rinku.
‘The right environment is a secure, trusting space, right?’ said Rakesh. ‘As a leader, you should set the tone. Talk in terms of ‘we’ and not ‘I’. Share your aspirations, concerns. Ask them for their views, show some vulnerability. You will be surprised how people react when they are asked for help. It makes them feel useful and important. They will not react the same way when they are ordered. You have to build trust.’
‘But why all this, bhaiyya?’ asked Rahul. ‘Why don’t we just tell them what to do and sack them if they don't do it?
‘That’s lazy leadership,’ said Rakesh. ‘As we discussed earlier, human resources are very precious. There’s a diamond in there somewhere and if you can access it, you have struck it rich. Your job as a leader is to develop this potential, create leaders, not punish and fire them. It depends on your approach. When you see people, do you see limitations, problems and bias? Or do you see potential, enthusiasm, teamwork and synergy? If you see potential, find ways to help them deliver to potential. Trust that they will deliver and stay with them. Be patient and hold the space. Tell them you’re on this great journey together and they have a big role to play in it and you’ll be surprised with the results.’
‘So, leadership is not about pushing our agenda hard?’ asked Rahul.
‘It’s about giving direction and letting everyone find the best route,’ said Rakesh. ‘So, how do you propose to go about it?’
‘Okay bhaiyya,’ said Rinku. ‘I am going to call a meeting and have everyone contribute with their ideas and genuinely listen to them. And I will share that I am looking at their help to achieve our goals and that it will not be possible without their help. That will be my first trust-building exercise.’
‘More on building trust later, but that’s a good start,’ said Rakesh.
Pro Tip: To get the best out of your people, manage their energies with a light touch, make them feel in control and allow them the freedom to come with their ideas to the table. Create the right atmosphere, guide gently and results will flow.