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“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”


The Dilemma

Many systems and strategies of the past are no longer effective. Schools were originally designed to cultivate conforming, compliant factory workers. Families expected children to be seen and not heard. Businesses were run in reaction to the war, the depression and were characterized by mechanistic, linear operations within a hierarchical management structure. These now need to be replaced with agile, concurrent processes in which technology—new platforms and tools—as well as new human systems for how people think, feel, speak and act, and other business innovations must not only be embraced rapidly and regularly, but also integrated intuitively, with your youngest team members often providing equal or greater value than your older, seasoned employees.

Are You Developing Leaders?

Key to my work is creating responsibility-based workplace cultures in which every employee, at every age and in every role, develops internal leadership, lives by purpose and values, and owns how well they get along, how much they get done and how happy they are. A responsibility-based workplace model teaches employees to fish. As a manager or business owner, sometimes it feels good to dole out fish because it may fulfill your idea of a good leader, give you the kick of recognition for your contributions, feed your sense of significance when dispensing control from above, or simply seem to be the quickest, most reliable way to accomplish things.

In my work, I see how uncomfortable developing leadership can be. For employers and managers, they often fear they won’t be good at it, worry about employee resistance, and are anxious it takes too much time. For employees, they fear they won’t be able to do it well, grumble about discomfort of ownership, and also fear it takes too much time. Developing internal leadership is new, is uncomfortable and does take time but it also takes these same to clean up many negative effects proven to arise from a lack of emotional and social intelligence, low motivation and productivity, poor teamwork, and disengagement.

Some People Resist Personal Responsibility

You cannot, nor should you, force people to become responsible. As a leader however, you don’t want to enable the lack of it. What you can do is model responsibility, set up systems so staff engage in it, provide resources to fund it, create buy-in for adopting it, highlight positive effects of it, inspire people to enjoy it, and most importantly, relinquish your role in enabling others to avoid it. Employees most resistant to developing it are almost always those who most need it.

For example, a manager at one of our client sites recently had a direct report decline the offer to develop his leadership skills, saying, “I’m not paid to come to work and manage relationships with others and work out problems. That’s your job as manager.” He was the first in line to relinquish his problems to his manager who said, “Hmm…let me remind you that turning down the opportunity to learn new skills we offer, doesn’t mean you won’t be affected by the direction in which we are heading. I will no longer manage relationships for you. I will offer you support in learning how to manage them yourself if and when you are ready. This is our direction now. What will you do?”

In this manner, the employee is provided an opportunity to grow hungry enough he may become sufficiently motivated to take up the offer to learn to fish, or he may move on to another organization in which he can continue to be fed fish. Either way, your organization takes a stand for high performance. Organizational health is where collaboration and diverse strengths blend within socially intelligent teamwork and it is your greatest competitive advantage, proven to net you the greatest profits and reputation. So…what will you do? Will you choose to feed your staff fish or teach them to fish?

This article has been published nationally in St. Louis Small Business Monthly in the column The Extraordinary Workplace, November 2015.

Why People Hire LifeWork Systems

Business owners and executives, community leaders, parents, educators and individuals hire LifeWork Systems because they know that effective conditions and conversations make all the difference in building trusting relationships, achieving dreams, and creating solutions and innovations for our evolving world. When people are happy and responsible, emotionally and socially intelligent, confident, and appropriately seen, heard, and supported, they always exceed expectations. We help instill into every person common concepts, terms, tools, and processes that result in healthy, happy, caring and contributing individuals, teams and organizations. Our mission is to create a world in which all people love their lives!

We appreciate you being here on our website and encourage you to reach out to us directly at or  314.239.4727. May something we offered in this article and website help you love YOUR life ~ because YOU matter!

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