Employees make a sharp distinction between leaders who engage and leaders who avoid.  They feel more valued by leaders who engage with them.  Feeling valued increases not only their sense of worth, but also their sense of purpose and loyalty.

Engagement is not micromanagement.  Employees perceive micromanagement as mistrust, but they are motivated by engagement that conveys their leader’s interest in them and support of them.

There are many understandable reasons why leaders avoid employees, but giving into these reasons damages their teams’ perception of their leadership.  Examples are:

  • They don’t have time.  (This is perceived as leaders caring more about tasks than people, more about their own success than the success of their employees.)
  • They don’t like the employee.  (This is perceived as fear or favoritism.)
  • They’re overwhelmed by urgent matters.  (Their job is too much for them.)
  • They’re not “social animals.”  (They’re unable to adapt to a leadership role.)

Employees are not fooled by avoidance in the name of efficiency.  They know that avoidance is avoidance.  The problem is that avoidance can evolve into something worse, like passive-aggressive behavior or alienation, undermining employees’ motivation as well as their confidence in the leader.

Some managers are simply not comfortable managing employees.  They prefer managing tasks.  They may sincerely want to make a positive contribution to the success of their company and even their co-workers.  They may have good hearts and a sincere desire to improve the system.  But they still need to conquer their reluctance with leadership in order to succeed and grow.  

The solution is to treat this reluctance like they would treat any other comfort zone issue that is holding them back.  They need to step out of their comfort zone in order to expand it.  This is especially true for engaging with employees they don’t like.  

Engaging productively with employees we don’t like is an important way to become a stronger leader.  These opportunities are a gift to be received as a doorway to greater confidence and satisfaction in leadership.  One way to receive this gift is to assume that the breakthrough to a good relationship is just a step away, and we can take that step whenever we want.