The saying Seeing is Believing has been used since biblical times. Most of us follow this philosophy in business. We want to see the financials and understand the successes and failures. Yet then, why, at times, do we turn a blind eye to our employees? This thought came over me as I was re-reading the book Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. (1) The book references Milgram’s Shock Experiment. As stated in a Simply Psychology article, Milgram (1963) wanted to investigate the obedience which drove the genocide behind World War II. (2) The experiment required volunteers to impart a shock to someone out of their sight when given the order by an authority figure. The experiment brought forth these results, “the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.” (2) Milgram (1974) goes on to define two states of behavior when people are in a social situation:
- The autonomous state – people direct their own actions, and they take responsibility for the results of those actions. (2)
- The agentic state – people allow others to direct their actions and then pass off the responsibility for the consequences to the person giving the orders. In other words, they act as agents for another person’s will. (2)
Anxiety grew inside me as I started to put together the fact that this could happen to me. If I were to combine a situation and a behavioral state, could I induce “harm” on my employees? If the personal connection is not made (situation), and if able to pass the responsibility (agentic state), how many of us would do something we would otherwise avoid? The harm could be more extended hours, lower compensation, or job loss. In this perfect storm of situation and state of behavior, our employees become abstract, and we become capable of doing them wrong.Calmly, I began to think through how I would do my best not to allow myself to fall into a complacency trap as it applies to my employees. My thoughts drove me to apply the SILVER rule which I derived along the way.
- See Your Employees and Find their Individuality – Finding my employees individuality and appreciating those traits will help me create a connection. My connections keep me from becoming too disconnected when needing to make a decision impacting my employees.
- Lead with your Values – Do not allow yourself to stand behind another person’s decision as it applies to an employee. Lead with your values. If the decision does not match values, your role as a leader is to disagree and discuss other options to this decision respectfully.
- Engage with Respect – After you have employed the above points, you may still need to deliver difficult messages to your employee. Engage with your employee with respect. Consider how and where you deliver the message. In addition, be ready to answer questions with compassion and respect.
Continue to see your employees and don’t allow them to become abstract. In addition, apply the SILVER rule – See Individuality, Lead with Values, Engage with Respect.
Consider these thoughts. If you are inclined, please send your experiences and ideas. An interactive audience enables learning for us all.
(1) Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders Eat Last. New York: Penguin Group (USA) LLC.