Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

One thing every employee requires

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

By Jeff Haden, LinkedIn.com

He stands awkardly, a poor man unused to being photographed. In one hand he clutches a small cloth sack and a one-way ticket. In the other hand he grips a broom.

The bag holds his clothes and what little food his wife and two small children can spare. The broom? Besides a fifth grade education and a strong back, it's the only tool he owns.

I once asked him about the broom. He said, "I didn't want to show up on a man's doorstep empty-handed. I was hoping someone could at least use me to sweep up."

Fortunately my grandfather found work as a farm laborer. At first he slept in a barn, but eventually he was able to send for his family. He worked and lived the rest of his life on that same farm.

When I was young I didn't recognize the fundamental dichotomy in his life: Employed by the wealthiest man in the county and taking justifiable pride in running a showcase property, he was also in essence a tenant farmer who never owned his own home or vehicle. Losing his job would not just take away his income; losing his job would instantly take away his family's home.

So he bought a racehorse.

Buying the horse made no sense considering he spent nearly all of what little savings they had. Still, he scraped together money for entry fees and ran without success at small tracks across the state... until one day the horse finished second at his local county fair.

After the race he held up the small silver plate at the finish line so I could take his picture. Then we led the horse back around the sandy track towards the stables as people on the other side of the rail congratulated him.

I was only twelve but even I could tell a noticeable difference in the way he walked. He stood taller, carrying himself with a clear sense of accomplishment, dignity, and pride.

Years later I realized why my grandfather bought the horse. He desperately wanted to be someone. He wanted to matter.

So do your employees.

I know: Sometimes they do things that aren't logical. Sometimes they take over projects or roles without approval or justification. Sometimes they jockey for position, play political games, or ignore company or team objectives in pursuit of personal goals.

At those moments it's easy to assume your employees don't listen or don't care. But there's another reason: They might be striving to add significance to their own lives, to gain a sense of meaning that pay rates and titles can never provide.

As a leader, providing a sense of meaning is arguably your most important role. Assign projects, no matter how small. Praise individual employees as often as you can. Extend responsibility, since implicit in responsibility is trust and regard. Help employees understand their place in a larger effort that transcends procedures, tasks, and measurable outcomes.

Like my grandfather, we all want to matter. Help your employees know they matter.

Especially to you.