There is a touching story that on the morning of June 5, 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower shook hands with the men of the 101st Airborne Division, wished them success in their mission of landing within the German occupation of Normandy, saluted them, and then walked to his car and wept privately for hours.

There is a touching story that on the morning of June 5, 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower shook hands with the men of the 101st Airborne Division, wished them success in their mission of landing within the German occupation of Normandy, saluted them, and then walked to his car and wept privately for hours.

Another story I came across recently is told by former pro football coach Tony Dungy in his book “Uncommon.” It’s about Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr., who was legendary as a caring and loyal business leader and citizen. He knew everyone in the Steelers organization by name and made every person feel that their job duties were important. He supported numerous community programs with his time and donations.

One year, the sanitation workers in Pittsburgh went on strike. Trash piled up around the city, but not in front of Rooney’s home. That’s because some of the workers were picking up his trash on their own, without getting paid. They did this because they appreciated Rooney’s genuine care for them and the city of Pittsburgh.

So what do these seemingly unrelated stories have in common? Both are illustrations of a leadership trait not always found in today’s corporate culture. These are stories about respect… for people.

You’ve heard it said that leadership is about getting things done through other people. But I want to add something very important to this concept. To me, leadership is not just what gets done, but how it gets done. In other words, it’s about how others are treated in the process of getting things done.

Throughout history impressive things have been built using slave labor. Battles have been won by armies of hired mercenaries. Medical knowledge was gained by ancients experimenting on the indigent of their times. You can certainly get things done through people that you don’t care about. But is this true leadership? I don’t think so.

Imagine a football coach who only knows his players by their position. “Great pass, quarterback,” he says. “Hey right tackle, you missed your block.” Would players be motivated to give their full effort for a coach who only knew them for the job they did?

In many corporations, this is exactly how employees are treated. Managers say they have an open door policy, but are frustrated when someone needs a few minutes of unscheduled time. Organizations promote values such as listening and collaboration, and yet employees feel disconnected and suspicious of corporate direction. In businesses large and small the unspoken but clearly understood message from management is, “We pay you to do this job; we don’t have to care about you.”

As a leader, you have the ability to create meaningful work relationships with employees. You can create a culture where people feel like they matter. You can – if you’re willing – take time to know the people who work under you.

Remember birthdays of your employees. Everyone likes being honored at least one day a year. Take the person to lunch or celebrate as a department. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Sometimes just a personal “happy birthday” wish from the boss helps.
  Be mindful of marriages, births, retirements, and family deaths. You would acknowledge major events for a close friend. Why not for your employees?
  Ask questions about an employee’s life outside of work.  It takes so little time to ask simple questions such as, “How is your mother doing after her surgery?” or “How is that home remodeling project coming?” Employees will appreciate that you cared enough to ask.

 

Allow time to listen. One of the most insincere things you can do is ask about an employee’s situation or ideas and then not pay attention to their answers. If you have limited time for a conversation, just say so. Employees will respect 3 minutes of your undivided attention much more than 30 minutes competing with your Blackberry.

 

Foster group activities outside of work. Have parties at your house. Invite employees to a sporting event or community activity. Host a holiday dinner. Invite everyone and pay costs out of your own pocket as often as possible. Some employees may not attend your events, but they won’t fail to notice your team building efforts.


Employees are not robots. They work to get paid, but they have an emotional investment in their work just like you. And they have responsibilities outside of work just like you. In almost every company, employees talk about life experiences to each other much more than to their boss.

Mahatma Ghandi, a man universally admired for his unyielding respect for human dignity, once said, “it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”  

Do your employees see you as a boss without a heart? Or do they only see empty words? Don’t treat your valued employees like emotionless drones. This is the season of giving thanks. Appreciate your employees’ efforts; but be truly thankful for the human beings doing those efforts.