“I could never believe that Providence had sent a few men into the world ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden.” — 17th century British soldier, Richard Rumbold’s final words on the scaffold before he was hanged. Quoted by Thomas Jefferson in his “Reflections on the Underlying Principles” in the American Declaration of Independence.
Ask any group of managers if they view themselves as an elite within their organization, and you can be sure they’ll deny it. You’ll hear comments such as, “I have an open-door policy” and “I take pride in always being accessible and approachable.”
And in most cases, these managers will really believe what they are saying. What they don’t realize, however, are the many invisible barriers – the “glass doors” – they put in place. Management perks and privileges like parking spaces or special offices create separation. Similarly, employees find it hard to get any sense of partnership or collaboration when their bosses hold exclusive meetings or conferences, hang out in management cliques, use condescending or dehumanizing language, or withhold financial statements or other “confidential” information.
Here again we see an example of what separates leaders from managers. Leaders put a real effort into listening to, and learning from, people throughout their organization. Listening is the clearest way we can show respect. Listening builds trust. By contrast, managers don’t listen to “their people” – usually because they’re too busy telling them what they need. Managers spend major amounts of time in their offices or in meetings with other managers and specialists. They often control and command by e-mail because they see it as a more efficient use of their time. Occasionally they might do an organizational survey or hold a meeting or special event for “their people.”
Strong leaders, on the other hand, have their own kind of “closed-door” policy. Not that they’re trying to keep people out. It’s just that most of the time you’ll find their office doors closed and the lights off – because leaders are so rarely satisfied with staying behind a desk. Leaders know that an office is a dangerous place from which to manage an organization. Leaders also recognize that few of “their partners” (frontline people) are going to be assertive enough to break through the invisible management barriers to come into their office and raise an issue. Many aren’t going to send an e-mail. Studies show that in many organizations a majority of frontline people are afraid to speak up. That’s why leaders spend huge amounts of time with people throughout their organization. They’re busy listening at breakfasts, lunches, barbecues, and town hall meetings. They’re conducting surveys, participating in cafeteria conversations, working together with people on the frontlines, and attending celebration events.
Labor lawyer Stuart Saxe runs workshops helping managers learn how they can stay union-free. He begins each session by asking managers to rank, in order of importance, what employees want. Money always heads the list. But when employees are asked the same question, “respect is at the top of the list,” reports Saxe. “You have to understand that you can’t be snobs. The employees who work for you consider their jobs as important as you think your job is,” he tells the managers.
Libby Sartain, VP, People (often called Human Resources in other organizations), and Jim Parker, CEO and Vice Chair of the Board at Southwest Airlines strongly agree: “Most labor disputes are not really about money. There is something else at stake – respect. It comes down to personal contact between the company and its employees. This is one reason our supervisors are so important. It is easier to walk out on people who do not give you respect than to walk out on a friend. And you cannot make up for longstanding problems in the two months before a negotiation. It needs to be consistent.”