A Caution for Leaders

Much of the leadership research findings and commentary I read these days are about the need for an increased focus on employee well-being. That is no doubt a good thing, given the twists and turns of the past 3 years, and all the continuing craziness. People still seem to be a bit frazzled. That said, I offer a caution about these kinds of findings. Let me explain.

Gallup recently shared some survey results related to their ongoing work around employee engagement. They found Trust, Compassion, Stability, and Hope to be the four most important traits that followers, including employees, need leaders to exhibit right now. All of these are solid, but frankly, these four traits could easily be used to describe a good parent, rather than a leader.

Here is what I find troubling. The best leaders really challenge us. They provide opportunities for us to test ourselves and truly grow. In the recent surveys, I have not seen much about people saying, “I want a leader who will challenge me to do my best and become my best.” Current findings (like the above) seem to be more about people wanting leaders who mostly care about their well-being and security today.

To be clear, well-being is critical. However, we must remember that well-being and challenge are not mutually exclusive. And we must also remind ourselves of a very important principle of leadership. It is not the leader’s role to protect people from all the difficulties of the world, but instead to equip them to handle those challenges. Therefore, you cannot stop challenging people to step up and venture into the unknown, for fear of being labeled as an unconcerned or uncaring boss. Tricky, isn’t it? Yet, I wonder how many leaders at the moment may be doing just that.

People have been and I believe will always be inspired and energized by challenging, meaningful opportunities. So leaders, keep at it. Just remember that as you ask people to step out of their proverbial comfort zones and tackle today’s uncertainties, they may need a more healthy dose of trust, compassion, stability, hope, and all other kinds of support. And my guess is that as you provide more of that much needed supportive and inspiring leadership to your people, their excitement and appreciation of you will be a terrific boost to your own state of wellness.

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