Don’t wear out your people

Why do we grind on people?

When things don’t turn out like we want, why must we berate or browbeat? When life is tough, why do we pick up the phone and give someone a hard time about it?

Here’s a theory of mine: When it comes to leadership and your team, remember that your people are like a set of high performance tires. Your company and its future rides on them. When you wear them down to the last tread, the whole place is in for a blowout.

When you work people 24/7, especially with an always-on email culture, you wear them out. When you push problems downhill and create instant panic in the troops, you shave off more tread. When you use fear as a way of motivating, you scare people into activity and wear them down a little along the way.

When people have had enough, they eventually have a human version of a flat: depression. They suffer an inability to cope anymore and sadness and despair rushes in to replace energy and hope. I believe that when you see a company, or a division, where everyone is depressed — THAT FISH STINKS FROM THE HEAD. In other words, its your fault if you are the leader. You wear them out. You refuse to internalize any of your problems. You cannot delay gratification, so you react in real-time and then apologize later when you are not so freaked out. You do this.

Next time you are freaked out, count to ten or sleep on it. Next time you want to vent, vent to yourself or a trusted equal. Next time you are in a horrible mood, give your troops a break and take a sick day.

There’s one big difference between people and tires, though. People are precious. They deserve to be happy and should not suffer. Recently, I read a quote from the British economist Lord Leverhulme where he thoughtfully observed, “If a machine wears out in half the present normal time, the world is richer, for a new machine has to be made to replace it, and that means more work for the workman, and more pay for his work—but if a man wears out in half the time, the world is poorer, and that needs no demonstration.”