In every office, in every business, and every industry and public service across the country, people go to work every day. As they enter the building, they adopt their role, job title, and professional persona. You can see it in every meeting and interaction, whether it is one on one, or a big event.

People are fulfilling their roles and seeking to perform against the approximation that is their job description. They exchange information on progress, issues, decisions, and so on. They have a job to do and are expected to perform.  The context is the success of the organisation and fulfilling its goals and financial and other targets. At the end of every year they know they will be appraised with the inevitable mixture of positive and negative feedback based on the opinion of others against their job spec, however it has been perceived and interpreted.

But the people that come through the office door every morning are so much more than this, so much more than their role and job description.  They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. They are uncles, aunts, nephews, and nieces. They are football fans, amateur musicians, sports men and women. They are environmental campaigners, school governors, charity volunteers.  They have hopes, dreams, and ambitions beyond their careers. They have fears and worries. Perhaps a sick child, relationship issues, or money worries. Who they are and how they perform at work is shaped by so many other aspects of their lives. What they really care about, includes, but is so much more than today’s business priorities.

And this presents a missed opportunity for every business. Amid the complexity of each of their unique lives, is an infinite array of skills, talents, experiences, desires, cares, and motives. These may mean they largely fulfil their roles, but rather than berate them for any shortcomings, what about using their talents and abilities that are not put to good use – regardless of what the job spec says? It is a basic human need to contribute and be recognised. Rather than shoe-horn this into a defined role, flex the role to allow people to flourish and grow.

Engaging with people, rather than a human resource, means connecting as people, with humanity. Think about your next interaction, how well do you know the person behind the role? See the whole person and consider the following:

  • Empathy. Much is written about it, but it really is quite simple. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand where they are right now and what they are dealing with.  Don’t know? Why not? Just ask. It only takes a moment but will establish a connection at a personal level and builds a relationship. The value is way beyond the little effort required.
  • Robots don’t have emotions, but we do. Not only that, but they are perfectly natural. We have no problem with celebrating and enjoying successes or being happy for our colleagues when things are going well. We should be equally comfortable with our own, and their emotions, when times are tough, they are under stress, and struggling.
  • Respect. A two-way street – you have to give it to receive it. A data exchange between two professional roles according to a standard operating procedure does not require it. A good working relationship between the people fulfilling those roles does. With empathy and understanding it is easier to give, and if you give respect you are more likely to receive it.
  • Loyalty.  See Respect.
  • Kindness. Above all else, how we treat people defines our character, not what we say. It is how we treat everyone, not just a select few we want to impress. It is how we treat them in difficult times and under pressure, not just when things are going well. To be kind is to be human, and to show humanity in your dealings with people.

By engaging with people as people, the culture of an organisation starts to shift. People start to feel listened-to, they start to feel respected. In turn their engagement increases, and their motivation, and contribution of new ideas and feedback. It becomes easier to make organisational changes as they support, if not instigate, improvements and efficiencies. Retention improves, and it becomes easier to attract talented people.

The traditional old-school view of leadership is that you had to be hard-nosed and business focussed. You had to be direct, assertive, and unwavering. You had to give clear direction and have the answers to the issues. Showing doubt, uncertainty, and humility, was seen as a sign of weakness. Being flexible with people issues, being accommodating, was seen as a sign of a poor leader giving in to people.

Actually, it is a weak leader that will hide behind the old way of behaving.  It takes courage to be humble. It takes confidence to listen rather than lecture. And it takes humanity to treat people as people and not simply a human resource. Be the strong and confident leader.