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If your bosses are feared, you have the wrong leaders


October 22, 2019
By Todd Humber


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Wayfair's Head OfficeWayfair's head office in Boston. Photo: Wikimedia

If your workers don’t like what you’re doing, they’re going to let you know. And if we can trot out a stereotype for one second, millennials and gen-Z workers are the quickest to head for the exits when corporate policies clash with their personal values.

Wayfair, an online retailer, found this out after hundreds of its staff walked out after news broke it had sold $200,000 U.S. worth of furniture to a government contractor that operates immigration detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We don’t want our company to profit off of children being in concentration camps,” said employee Madeline Horward, according to an article posted on Forbes.

That type of language doesn’t look good on corporate mission statements. But Wayfair employees aren’t the first to flex their corporate social responsibility muscles – and they won’t be the last.

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Last year, Google employees abandoned their posts to protest the way the tech giant was handling sexual misconduct complaints. Earlier this year, Microsoft employees bristled after that company signed a $480 million contract with the U.S. Army, sending a letter to senior management complaining that the technology would be used to “help people kill” and that the engineers working on the software never knew the true intent behind it.

It all led to a trending topic on LinkedIn with a debate around whether or not employees have stopped fearing the “big boss.”

The only answer management should want to that question is “yes.” Good leaders aren’t feared, they are respected.

Brash cigar-chomping bullies have gone the way of the dodo at most organizations, an extinction that Bay Street and Wall Street alike should celebrate. (Come to think of it, Toronto is ripe for another victory parade – the Raptors’ hangover has finally cured.)

Leaders aren’t there to boss people around, and the sooner organizations recognize that reality the healthier their bottom lines will be.

They have many roles – to inspire and make tough decisions chief among them. But no role is more critical for a manager than providing support to the employees doing the so-called “real” work of the organization.

I’ve had the privilege of leading both strong and weak teams during my career. When I was first given reports, I made the mistake – as many new leaders do – of assuming I had to take control and be the voice of authority. It backfired spectacularly and had the opposite effect I was hoping for.

Instead, I quickly learned the best leaders are the ones that provide their teams with the tools they need to do their jobs. They know when to chime in, and when to step back and not throw a wrench in the works of a well-oiled machine.

This is especially true for leaders joining new organizations and leading new teams.  If your workers fear you, you’re not poised for long-term success. Instead, you’ll find yourself surrounded by yes men as turnover rates soar and you struggle to maintain revenue and profit.

Agree or disagree with the stand Wayfair employees took. But don’t bemoan the fact workers have a spine and will stand up for what matters most to them.

Be thankful for that passion, learn to harness it and you will build strong teams and a bulletproof organization.


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