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At the heart of Serving Leadership is a non-negotiable premise: people are your organization’s greatest treasure. This point of view requires a change in leaders accustomed to thinking of people as a tool, function, or cost.

Don’t get me wrong. Employees must be useful. They’re hired to accomplish important work. “What can I do to be more useful to you?” is a fantastic question for a young person to ask a first boss. It is guaranteed to distinguish that new worker from the rest of the pack.

But that’s my advice to workers. My advice for leaders is this: “Help your workers discover what they most love to do, what they’re best at doing, and how they can make their greatest contribution.”

There’s a paradox when it comes to how leaders view employees. When we view our workers primarily as tools to get stuff done, we tend to get less stuff done. But when we view employees as human beings we have the privilege of investing in and helping to grow, we ironically accomplish more.

Gallup’s Q-12 Survey – 12 questions revealing the level of an employee’s engagement – has proven this. Fully one-third of the questions are about the employee’s experience of being invested in, valued, and grown. Gallup asks:

  • Question 3: At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best?
  • Question 6: Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  • Question 11: In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • Question 12: In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

When people love what they’re doing, they naturally give it their full energy and passion. Our work as leaders begins with exploring each person’s strengths. There are various tools available to help in this process, but some of the best are free and low-tech. Try talking over coffee. Here are some helpful questions to ask an employee:

  • What do you most like about your job?
  • What is it about that aspect of your job that makes it so rewarding for you?
  • Is anything hindering your ability to do more of what you do best?
  • Is there anything I can do to help you grow and develop?

Leading this way does not need to be difficult. Perhaps it’s “common sense,” but it’s definitely not common practice.

Why does leading this way bring better results? The reason is simple. People who know they’re valued and worth investing in are your company’s greatest assets. When valued, and given the opportunity to work from their strengths, employees become more fully engaged. The higher their engagement, the greater the organization’s productivity and profitability. This is what the Gallup study, along with numerous others, have confirmed over the past several years.

There are “Thank God it’s Friday” people and “Thank God it’s Monday” people. When we think of our people as tools, we get more TGIF people. When we think of our people as a treasure, looking for ways to invest in their growth and development, we get more TGIM people.

I don’t need to ask which kind of person we want on our team. The only question that needs to be asked is, “Are we ready to really help our people grow?” They’re looking for our investment, and they have much more to give in return.