The Whole Person

by Russell, Nan S. Friday, April 30, 2010
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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 about yourself."

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.

(c) 2010 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.