May 1 in Barbados, and across many other countries in the world, marks Labour Day – a day that is synonymous with International Workers’ Day.
Labour Day seeks to highlight and celebrate the tremendous achievements and contributions of workers. Its place among the bank holidays of Barbados demonstrates both its relevance and its prominence. Each year on this day, the workers come together to march in solidarity and to be encouraged through thought-provoking and motivational speeches from various individuals and groups.
Outside of the celebratory activities and merriment characteristic of the occasion, one of the principal things that piques my interest relative to Labour Day, is that it has originated from the eight-hour day movement. This was a labour union movement which sought to advocate for eight hours for work, eight for recreation and eight for rest. Such a principle directly speaks to the need for [us as leaders], to have balance in our understanding and treatment of our people who work with and for us.
There are too many leaders who seek to maintain relationships with workers that are simply out of balance. They want to take, take and then take some more from their people, but when it comes time for them to give back, there are issues. Workers will never feel valued and will never fully recognize and accept you as a leader if they perceive that you perpetually tip the scales against them. There must be balance in leadership – a balance where it is understood that there must be both giving and taking; characteristic of a mutually beneficial relationship. For example, there are some employers who remember the punch clock only when [employees] arrive at work a few minutes late but they seem to forget its existence when those same employees work through and leave hours after their shift’s scheduled end. Balance is vital in maintaining healthy relationships with our people.
In valuing the contributions of our workers, it is absolutely critical that we recognize that without them we are nothing. Leadership expert, John Maxwell said: “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.” My continuous assertion to you is that leadership is not at all about titles – titles exist but they offer very little when it comes to true leadership. True leaders acknowledge the importance of their people and they never allow themselves to believe that they are the ‘all-important’ ones simply by reason of being in front. Thinking back to the times of great military battles – men on horses with flags, swords and muskets drawn – can you imagine a Commander facing down his opponents across a field and after giving his powerful battle-cry and riding off fiercely towards them, he halts upon the realisation that not one of his men has moved a single foot to support him in his quest? In much the same way, leaders of today who think that they can go at it without the efforts and support of their people will also meet a certain and undesirable end result.
Effective leaders also see their people not as competition, but as repositories of almost limitless potential, creativity and solutions. There are many individuals in leadership positions who believe that they alone possess all of the answers to the challenges facing their organisations and they often wonder why they continue to face these same challenges, year after year. Our workers often have pertinent insights into aspects of our organizations that we, the leaders lack. Sometimes all it takes [to come to a resolution] is to simply include them in the discussion on how to approach and solve the current issue. Collective problem solving not only allows for tapping into the varied knowledge bases and experiences of your people, but it also fosters a team environment and establishes trust and tighter bonds across the members of the organisation. Some of the greatest companies on earth make it a habit to regularly elicit the input of their workers in driving their businesses forward – they understand the value of their people.
So, with the May 1 celebration of Labour Day this year, I would want to encourage all of us to take a fresh look at our workers through a new lens. They must not be viewed as ‘necessary evils’ but they should be celebrated, respected, encouraged, included and offered a balanced environment and relationship. In so doing, we as leaders will clearly demonstrate that we truly understand the value of our people.
(Davidson Ishmael holds a MBA in Leadership and Innovation and is an operations manager in the financial services sector.