“Each of us can struggle with turning relationships into objects–a tendency which fosters an unsafe world.” — Dan Moeller

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett

“By far, the most important fact in determining a team’s likelihood of success is the ability to take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed.” – Google

Some time ago, I wrote about three signs that indicate when an individual is tending to see others as objects.  To read more about those three signs, click here.  This week, I want to share five reasons for how this perspective develops and a solution to this tendency.  But beware, I am not going to pull any punches.  Our lives, our organizations, our staff, and our relationships are too important to dance around this topic.  So, be cautioned.  Read on only if you are willing to face the real sources of the objectification of people.

Gut check:  People don’t leave an organization because they are tired of winning.  They don’t leave because the organization is achieving goals and experiencing success.  People leave organizations because the environment is such that they simply can’t take it anymore.  They can’t take the discord, they don’t like the apathy, or they are just tired of feeling like they don’t matter.  When we treat people with whom we work this way, we are treating them like objects or tools.  Nobody wants to be treated like a tool.

A friend of mine once worked for a boss that didn’t meet with her for 14 months.  He just expected she would carry on with her job, head down, making the widgets.  I don’t believe that managers intend to be neither neglectful, nor overbearing, nor micromanaging.  In fact, I think most are well meaning and really try to create healthy workplaces.  But along the way, focus can be skewed and the consequence is loss of effectiveness and influence.  Here are five reasons why we start treating people as objects and lose our effectiveness:

  1. Our own stress level or burdens, for whatever reason, have flared. Instead of leading with openness, we begin to ratchet down because we are just trying to survive.  Depending on our temperament, stress often drives us to either avoid or become controlling.
  2. We have fallen into old patterns that reflect the way we were managed or led. Especially in circumstances of uncertainty or difficulty, we tend to fall back into familiar patterns.  For example, when we were young or in our first job, we might have seen a parent or a manager isolate a difficult individual.  Over time, our own tendency could have been to mimic that same isolating behavior.
  3. We are afraid to be hurt. Relationships are messy.  It can be far easier to keep people at arm’s length rather than engage in productive conversations and resolutions.  Over time, people feel isolated and begin to look for an organization that engages with them.
  4. We are focused only on results or tasks and lose sight of those performing the tasks. This tendency is similar to the previous one but is rooted in the focus of too much to do and a lack of clarity to the role of the leader.  Yes, a leader makes sure things get done.  But his/her primary role is to lead and facilitate a team’s success.  When we are overly focused on tasks, we easily slip into objectifying people because we see them as a distraction to our to-do list.
  5. The last reason is simple: pride. We think our idea is the only one worth consideration.  We may give lip service to listening to others’ views, but those that work with us know that, in the end, our idea will always win.  When we do this, we aren’t seeing the value of others’ opinions or experiences.  We just need our idea rubber stamped and then carried out.

All of these are reasons for why we are objectifying people.  The result?  Our best people either leave to find new positions where their ideas will be heard and they can effectively contribute their skills or they just keep their head down and “get along” without giving us or our organization their best.  So, what’s the solution?  How can we lead our organizations differently?  Stop talking and start listening.  Listen to the hopes and dreams of our staff and teams.  Stop marching and start listening to the cadence of those around us.  Begin living the old but very relevant wisdom of doing to others what we would like done to us.  Do we want to be heard?  Then start listening.  Do we want to be valued?  Then start valuing the input of others.  Begin to take steps toward mindset change by visualizing what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes.  To face their obstacles.  To face their concerns.  To face their reality that they have only one life to live and they want it to count for something.  Give them that experience by engagement.

When it comes to objectifying people, the stakes are really high.  For those who want to lead high performing teams, this is an area in which coaching can make a significant difference.  I would encourage you to make an appointment today with Derek or myself to learn how we can equip you to be more effective.  Is the risk of losing your best employees worth the risk of delaying?  Just drop me a note (dan@prairiefireco.com) or give me a call (402-802-3094) to talk more.

Until next time,

Dan