England and France fought a war for over a hundred years (all starting with a family dispute among the royals).
The medieval fortress of Chateau de Castelnaud, which sat on cliffs high above the Dordogne River Valley, enjoyed an important strategic defensive position during the conflict. From those heights, one could see for miles into the distance, covering both land and river.
But even given its impressive height, walls, and battlements, Castelnaud changed hands numerous times during the Hundred Years’ War. I’m sure whoever had it at the time “gave the territory below a pretty good look every day … making sure there weren’t any immediate threats on the horizon.”
They were well aware it wasn’t impervious to danger. Or defeat.
The Leadership Lesson?
Every workforce has people who wear the scars of previous battles. In one way or another, they’ve been wounded on the job … (maybe not so much physically, but more so, psychologically).
Human interactions are frightfully difficult – fraught with missteps, misunderstandings, communication failures, and a thousand other perceived “wrongs.” Perhaps those injuries were inflicted by the way they felt a previous boss, supervisor, or coworker, treated them? Or the way the organization operated or was perceived?
Work experiences gone wrong and never (or poorly) addressed, result in hurts that are never healed. As John Mayer sings, “You’re no one until someone lets you down.”
That’s why so many workers assume a “defensive position” – to protect themselves from further pain.
The Reality is that Scars Affect Motivation and Performance.
As the boss, you may think people should just “get over it” and get on with it, because you can’t fix everything. It may not even be you or anything you did – but something happened.
So when you see overly-sensitive, cautious, distrustful, partially-committed workers, you can assume there’s something that needs help. Figuring out what the problem might be, and how you can approach this person (these people), will ultimately determine how effective you are at restoring them as good workers, and returning the workplace to a healthy environment.
It’s the Responsibility of Leading.
Undoing the damage begins with resetting relationships on many levels – worker-to-worker, worker-to-supervisor, worker-to-organization, team-to-team, office-to-office, etc. The persistent need for renewal includes apology and forgiveness. Putting in the time and energy to do that demonstrates your level of “care,” and positively impacts everyone involved.
That’s hard to achieve. But necessary and worth the effort.
– Jerry Strom
NEXT MONTH: “Making Up for Lost Time”
Twitter: @JerryRStrom. For more information about our leadership and team development programs, please visit http://www.JerryStrom.com . Join the mailing list to receive new articles as they are published. This article is based on research conducted within ‘Leadership Challenges: Developing Confidence in the Future,’ by Jerry Strom & Company, Inc. Find short insights on Twitter at #LeadershipChallengesSurvey