Henry Ford is reported to have quipped, "Why is it that I
always get the whole person when what I really want is a pair of
hands?" The 21st century version doesn't sound quite like that, but
its essence prevails in plenty of workplaces.
The functional equivalent of Ford's thinking is housed in statements
from supervisors, managers, and coworkers like: "What do you mean her
kid is sick again, and I have to do her work?" "I know he's having a
rough time at home, but he has to leave it at the door." Or "I'm
sorry his father died and he needs more time off to travel to the
funeral, but what am I suppose to do about the policy?"
It may seem like the right approach is to distance ourselves at work;
to hire the "hands" or the "heads" or the "voices" to do what needs
to be done and keep the "real" person out of the mix. But keeping
people's emotions, feelings, thoughts, weekend happenings, families,
and interests away from the workplace is a bad business decision.
You see, people work for people, not for companies. We all need a
connection to the whole, to be appreciated, or to know someone cares
about us as a unique person. That's true at work too. Research
confirms that people who don't feel cared about as individuals at
work are more likely to be disengaged, distrust their bosses, and
display less than trustworthy behaviors.
When supervisors and managers see the whole person, they engage them.
They build loyal, enthusiastic work groups. Engaged teams are more
creative, resourceful and productive, producing quality results again
and again. You know those engaging bosses. These are the people you
want to work for, people you'd follow to the next company, and people
who bring out the best in you. They value you as a person, not a position.
But how exactly do they do that? These winning at working managers
know the difference between being interesting and being interested.
Actress and singer, Lisa Kirk summed it up this way, "A gossip is one
who talks to you about others, a bore is one who talks to you about
himself, and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you
It was a mentor-boss of mine who introduced me to this perspective.
She tactfully suggested I'd get better results from my staff if I
reframed my orientation. "Stop trying to be the person with answers,"
she said. "Your job is to ask the right questions and listen to those
around you, staying open to the possibilities and ideas and life
experiences the people around you bring."
Winning at working people may be "interesting" people, but not
because they're trying to be. They're too busy being "interested" in
others. These people engage the whole person, their ideas, their
passions, and their life.
It's the smart boss who recognizes that the power of engagement is to
reverse Ford's thinking. They ask themselves, "Why is it that I get a
pair of hands when what I really want is the whole person?" That's
because they know that building winning work cultures where the best
can do their best, as whole people, is good business.
© 2007 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.
Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books;
January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on
webtalkradio.net. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in
management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to
receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at