A CEO client was lamenting the challenges he faced with his work force and in frustration he said to me, “I wish my employees were robots so I could program them to do what they’re supposed to do and turn them off when I don’t need them.” He was kidding, of course. But some companies do treat their people like machines. Wise leaders know that managing people is much more complex than maintaining machinery, but it is also more rewarding.

There might be some advantages to having robotic workers with on/off switches and other machine-like qualities. For example:

But let’s also consider the disadvantages:

Because machines can’t think, they need to be programmed. Because people can think, they need to be educated. If we’re training our team to perform repetitive tasks instead of educating them to think and act innovatively, then we’re treating them like machines and depriving ourselves of the powerful contributions of the human mind.

But having an educated team doesn’t by itself guarantee high-level productivity and quality. How we lead and manage that team determines whether or not we get the best from it.

As I work with leaders on the development of peak-performance teams, I often share with them the following tips:

Inspire People, Don’t Just Drive Them

Abraham Maslow taught us that humans, after they have satisfied their basic needs, exert themselves toward higher aspirations. They seek “self-actualization”—to become the best that they can be. We can inspire people by showing them how to be their very best.

Leaders can inspire their organizations by giving them a cause to rally behind: an inspiring vision and mission based on values everyone can identify with.

Be Easy to Like and Respect

Be accessible to people and let them see your human side. Observe high standards of personal conduct, but let your employees know that you’re human. Talk to them about your bad decisions as well as your good ones. When you blow it, grin and admit it. Your team will respect you for it.

Once, on a televised tour of a plant, Remington CEO Victor Kiam stepped off-camera to ask a woman employee about her ailing husband. He told her not to try to carry the burden alone. The company was there to help. Later, the woman told an observer that she would do anything for Kiam.

That kind of loyalty isn’t earned by prickly, aloof leaders. Kiam obviously had taken the time to mingle with employees and talk to them about their problems.

Help People Like Themselves

Robert W. Reasoner, a California school superintendent, who headed a statewide task force on self-esteem, identified five basic attitudes that foster self-esteem. They are: a sense of security; a sense of identity; a sense of belonging; a sense of purpose; and a sense of personal competence.

Secure people are comfortable with who they are and with what others think about them. When our team members have a sense of belonging, they identify with the organization’s vision and goals, because these things have personal meaning for them. They personally share in the success and the mission of the organization.

Members obtain a sense of purpose from knowing the organization’s goals and knowing how their efforts contribute toward those goals. Leaders need to give people a specific role in planning and goal-setting.

We can give our team members a sense of personal competence by educating them and giving them the freedom to succeed or fail on their own.

Help People Believe That What They’re Doing Is Important

Medtronic, Inc., of Minneapolis has a heartwarming way of dramatizing the importance of what its employees do. Each year at Christmas time, the company holds a party for employees, and guests of honor are people whose lives have been prolonged by Medtronic cardio-pulmonary devices.

Stew Leonard, the grocery-store wizard from Connecticut, told me he refuses to use job titles that he perceives as demeaning. Once he noticed a job listed as “popcorn maker.” He immediately ordered a more dignified title. How would you feel if someone asked you what you did for a living and you had to answer, “I’m a popcorn maker”?

Respond to People Instead of Reacting

Leaders should be accessible to their teams. Let your people know they can come to you with problems, concerns, ideas, suggestions or complaints. If they bring you usable ideas, adopt the ideas and give credit where it is due.

Welcome bad news as well as the good. What you don’t know can hurt you. Don’t ignore complaints. Listen to them. Find out what you can do to rectify matters, let people know what you plan to do—and do it.

That’s good people management. Machines don’t need that kind of attention. But machines don’t innovate, design, solve problems or sell and market products, either.

NIDO QUBEIN is one of the country’s most illustrious
philanthropists and businessmen. He is President of the National Speakers
Association and President of High Point University in High Point, NC.