Will Anyone Contribute Toward Your Gift?

No one wanted to contribute to her holiday gift.”

The assistant manager told me that during the holidays, it is customary of all employees of the retail store to chip in to buy gifts for the store manager and the assistant managers. The problem was that the workers are mostly hourly part-timers. As we all know, based on those circumstances this would put a strain on their wallets.

However, this same manager told me that when it came time for a collection for her gift, everyone gave. She recounted what the workers told her: For you we will willingly give because you are always there for us. Not so much for the big shot at the top of the pyramid.

Managers must connect

The store manager did not know the background of this because the other mangers contributed enough to get her a gift. However, not one worker came forward to put money in the pot. NOT ONE.

Corporations today are infested with managers that are out of control. For someone not wanting to contribute $5 USD towards a gift for you is the ultimate sign that you have lost.

One of the parameters of leadership is about connecting with your people. The ultimate accolade for a leader is simply when everyone on the org chart feels respected and cared for.

I asked the store manager telling me this story just what she did that made the workers want to contribute to her gift. “I care for my people,” she told me. “While each of them carries a lot of issues, I try and understand and use the process of attunement.” That means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. She related stories to me of how she feels like the “mother hen”: she counsels, advises and serves as a sounding board for each of them.

Taking a chance

She recounted the story of how she took a “chance” on one worker who, based on her application, would not be a stellar employee. Not a strong work history and very shy, but this manager felt something and decided this employee was going to be her project.

Months later this employee became her No. 1 employee. She literally wrote a letter to this manager thanking her for the job and how much she enjoyed it, but more importantly, thanking her  for taking that chance

I am a sucker for these type stories because it shows how each of us as leaders can make a difference in our people’s lives. When I hear managers tell me that they are overwhelmed, my thoughts always connect to this part of the equation: If your employees were empowered to do their jobs, this would give you more time. If you had made the connection, you would have all the time you need.

That normally brings out an array of explanations why that will not work.

I tell the people in my company, here is the problem, come back to me with ideas how to solve it I am always amazed by their thought process and their creative approaches. That is when the discussion begins. Then we fine tune their thoughts. This is how you grow people and give them confidence.

Empower them and watch the magic

Empowerment is the key to leading people. If you hired them for the job, let them do it and get out of their way. If you took a chance on a hire, give them the latitude to move forward. A high-powered team is the ultimate in organizations today. Problem is, we have too many micromangers whose presence is so strong they exasperate their people who then just go through the motions.

Imagine for a second turning your people into high performers and unleashing them. Do not tell me that they are not capable; you hired them. And even if you didn’t it’s your job to fix that. What are you going to do?

The most important role today of a leader is to morph into a coach.

I played football in high school and what I remember most is not the game but the coach who instilled in each of us as kids the importance of striving for perfection and giving it our all. I had the honor of spending some quality time with him before he passed away. I told him, “Thank you.” While the game was important, the leadership lessons were the powder that propelled me to success.

So as we hire people – whether we feel they are a solid hit or it’s someone on whom we decide to take a chance — we must move away from the manger label and coach them to their highest performance.

Make that connection

Years ago, as I was beginning to climb the corporate ladder, I worked for Sharon Patrick, founding CEO of Martha Stewart Living in New York City.

One of the things I noticed was that everyone called her “Sharon.” Her MO was to set the culture from the bottom up. You might find her in the mail room arguing with the guys over the game the night before. There she was sitting in a folding chair, with her feet propped up making her case about her team. Try and envision 5 or 6 guys who were positioned at the bottom of the org chart sitting with the CEO arguing sports. The amazing take away for me was that they felt so comfortable with her.

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She was known for connecting with everyone in the building. She would just stop by your desk, pull up a chair and say, “Tell me what you are working on.” It mattered not what your job was; she just felt comfortable with everyone in the organization. Her laughter would fill the hallways.

When my mother took seriously ill and eventually died, Sharon sent me a long note of condolence, telling me in so many words, to take as much time as I needed.

Her leadership style permeated the culture. She set the tone and we all, as young leaders, modeled that behavior.

The day that she was let go by the board was a sad day within. There were tears everywhere at the realization she would no longer be there

Leadership is about connecting, and nothing else.

So, in the final analysis is your style of leadership that kind that would have your people willingly contribute for your gift?

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.