Leadership is produced in our minds, conceived using thought, and is a perspective of our life. Our thoughts are structured using the language we know, and the words we use have meaning. These word constructs create our beliefs and our beliefs fuel our actions.
Great leaders have constructed great beliefs from simple perspectives in their minds, and one plain perspective is their view of the people they lead. Do they see their employees as a necessary evil costing them money to get work done, or do they see them as a useful tool to benefit from, to care for and protect?
One problem I see is our unconscious choice of the words we use. Words mean things, and we’ve let many words and phrases evolve into barks with no bite. For instance, we don’t say worker, or employee anymore, now we say associate or advocate. No one really knows what an associate is, do they? It sounds nice but has less meaning than worker or employee. We make up new labels for employees to cover up the misguided belief that we are exploiting them, which we’ve been taught is wrong.
Employees know they are employees, workers, laborers and that the company benefits from the work they do. They see through the labels management throws upon them, trying to cover up the truth, trying to make them feel better about being exploited. Its effect is small, but large enough for everyone to see the deceitful, cowardice intention of management. It creates distrust among the workers.
In my experience, management is blind. They have good intentions, but horrible actions. For instance, long ago, managers created the time clock and punch card. This new tool would allow them to measure the time an employee was at work. You punch in, and punch out. The time was measured and you were paid accordingly. You are paid according to time spent, not work produced. Management did not think about the message they would send to their employees and the impact it would have on their culture.
Perhaps, if companies were to look at the only message a time clock sends to employees, most would get rid of them. It is subtle but simple because the only sound an employee hears when they clock in is – “We don’t trust you.” Management is more concerned about the time at work than the work produced. If you don’t believe me, try being 10 minutes late for a few days and see what happens. Then try decreasing your work produced for a few days, then watch which one gets noticed.
Over 70% of American workers are unhappy in their work, according to a Gallup Poll. In my opinion it is because leadership does not know what the word exploit means. That’s right, exploit. We’ve evolved the definition of the word to a point where exploiting your employees is wrong. But it’s exactly what leadership should be doing and what your employees want!
The issue is no one knows the true definition of exploit. So, leaders today go about exploiting, then denying it and trying to do something else which would be more acceptable and covering it up. A constant struggle for management. Exploit simply means to benefit from, or to make use of, and as a noun means a great feat as in “the exploits of Marco Polo.”
Think about this, a person seeks employment in order to trade labor production for money. They know the company they work for benefits from the work they do, and in return they benefit from the company and receive money. The company exploits the employee and the employee exploits the company. They mutually benefit.
The question is not, should you exploit our employees, because you are exploiting them now. The only question is, how do you exploit your employees exceptionally?
We will not create great results by exploiting our employees and then denying it by calling it something else. Many employees feel exploited if you ask them. Be honest and acknowledge what they already know and make it productive. Employees like being exploited in exchange for money, what they don’t like is not being appreciated for their work.
Employees want to be exploited, they want the company to benefit from their labor so they can receive money from the company. Mutual exploitation. It’s the reason they want a job, a career so they may build the lifestyle they desire.
I’ve created many successful teams by discussing this very thing with my employees. I describe it in detail when I hire a new employee. They know my job is to exploit them and I do it exceptionally by placing them in the right spot to exploit their skills, give them the best tools to increase their productivity, give them the best training, clear expectations, create a team around them that supports them and then most of all, pay them more than they can get anywhere else. I don’t want them to leave. They enjoy being exploited exceptionally. They respect the honesty, value the clarity and enjoy the simplicity.
It’s sad we’ve diluted our language and blurred the definition of many words we use by assuming we know what they mean. To be a great leader, language is crucial in order to paint the vision they see in their minds and to guide, protect and be useful to those they lead. Great leaders make language simple and clear, so the vision is clear, the goals are clear and what is expected from the employee is clear and simple.
A great way to exploit an employee is to listen to them. They are the rubber that hits the road. They have the ideas that will save the company, and create the vital change necessary for moving forward into the future.
The strange thing is, if you are willing to listen, an employee will share with you exactly how to exploit them and get the most out of them. All it takes is a little time out of your busy schedule as a leader, stop everything around you and truly listen to the message your employee has for you and the company. From my experience, most leaders have not developed their skill of listening. It’s more than hearing the words. Eighty percent of what we communicate is non-verbal.
Most managers and leaders are much better at creating and citing paralyzing policies and barking orders. They’ve become experts at bossing, saying no to time off, writing people up for being late, pestering about deadlines, dictating their great ideas, taking credit for work being done and micro-managing. None of this is exploiting. It’s all demotivating.
Do you want to make a change in your company, your department, or your team? It begins within you as a leader. Change your thoughts, the perspective in which you see your employees. See them for what they are, a tool to create value. See them as valuable. Discover their value. It all start with you, their leader.
Begin exploiting your mind, make it useful by studying the words you use and what they mean. Benefit from your employees by listening to what they need and being useful to them, which means to serve them. You have the power and authority to get them what they need to excel, defend and protect them. Exploit your employees by letting them exploit you. I think you will be surprised at what happens to your culture, to your company and to your bottom line.
Written by Leo Hamblin.