You Have to Make Them Love Their Jobs


April 22, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

As corporations’ expectations for their professionals (BusinessWeek, 4/15/08) have increased, professionals’ expectations for their leaders have also increased. Peter Drucker often talked about the importance of effectively leading knowledge workers – professionals who know more about what they are doing than their boss does.

In leading today’s knowledge workers, it is important to invert the pyramid and look at leadership vis-a-vis the wants and needs of the professional – as opposed to the skills of the leader. Today’s leaders may be judged more by the gifts they provide than the gifts that they possess. Here are some tips for successfully managing knowledge workers:

o Encourage their passion

When professionals were working 35-40 hours per week and taking four to five weeks of vacation, it was not so important that they loved what they did. But when professionals are working as many hours as they do today, it’s crucial that they love their work. Professionals need to look forward to going to work in the morning. The leaders of the future need to look for, support, and encourage passion in their professional employees. Leaders also need to “lead by example” and demonstrate this same passion. When I ask high-potential leaders why they stay with their companies, “I love working here!” is a very common response!

o Enhance their ability

As job security has decreased – and global competition has increased – the need to update and refine skills continually has become critical in maintaining professional careers. Leaders of the future will need to look beyond the skills needed for today and help professionals learn the skills that will be needed for tomorrow. One company renowned for educating its professionals has noted: “We cannot ensure your lifetime employment, but we can help ensure your lifetime employability”. Top professionals will often be willing to accept less money for more growth. Loyalty will be gained through learning – not just earning.

o Value their time

As professionals have less disposable time, the value of their time increases. When asked to describe the qualities of leaders they do not respect, one of the most common answers from professionals is: “I hate it when leaders waste my time.” It is hard enough working 50-80 hours a week and doing what does matter. It is incredibly painful to work that much and then end up wasting time on things that don’t. Leaders will need to increase skills in protecting professionals from things that neither encourage their passion nor enhance their ability.

o Build their networks

Professionals in the future will realize that their only security will come from their abilities and their networks. By enabling professionals to establish strong networks both inside and outside the company, organizations can gain a huge competitive advantage and the loyalty of their workers. Professional networking enables people to expand their knowledge and bring back new knowledge to the organization.

As multiple job – and even career – changes become the norm, companies will begin to experience professionals who leave and then return. A role model for providing positive networking is strategy consulting firm McKinsey. McKinsey goes out of its way to provide a network for former employees. Many ex-McKinsey consultants go on to become leaders in major corporations – and customers of McKinsey. Their loyalty to former employees helps lead to loyalty from future customers.

o Support their dreams

The best professionals are working for far more than money. They have a dream of making a meaningful contribution in their field. I heard Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google (GOOG), explain why he was not afraid that many of their best people would leave after the initial public offering, which would make them very rich. He noted that Google wanted to be the world’s leader in providing information – and that any professional who wanted to be the best in the field would want to work there. Leaders in the past have asked: “What can you do to help our company achieve its dream?” Leaders in the future will also ask: “What can our company do to help you achieve your dream?”

o Expand their contributions

Two of the most important needs of hard-working professionals are happiness and meaning. As was mentioned earlier, leaders need to encourage passion to create an environment where people are happy and want to come to work. Leaders will also need to show how the organization can help the professional make a larger contribution to the world. When people have “24/7” lifestyles, they may not have much of a chance to find meaning – and the opportunity to make a contribution – outside of work. If this is the case, their major opportunity to find meaning and make a positive difference will come from inside of work. No one wants to put in endless hours on trivia. Leaders will need to help professionals make a real difference in their professions and in the world.

Leading the managers and professionals of the future will be a challenging, yet rewarding, job. Leaders will need to go beyond looking at the work to be done and consider the human doing the work. They will need to understand the incredible pressures that have been brought about by globalization, technology, and competition. They will need to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice needed for professional success in a much tougher world. Leaders will need to realize that as work becomes even more important, and organizations become even more important, they will become even more important in helping to shape the quality of life and the futures of the professionals they lead.