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Things you should never ask your team to do

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Aditi Sharma Kalra promises never to ask employees to blindly pursue work over family or not presenting them the big picture in assigning a task.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – without getting too biblical on you, this was my mum’s catchphrase for life and work, drilled into my head at an early age.

This maxim has been especially helpful in my efforts to be a fair and people-focused manager, where some decisions have led me to ponder the implications more than I typically would, by placing myself in my team’s shoes.

With that thought, here’s my list of things I’d never ask my team to do.

Top of my list (as is the case in many of my other lists) is food – I would never ever ask my team to compromise on their lunch hour in lieu of work. And if you’ve got more live-to-eat type members on your team than eat-to-live, then I hope you’re not guilty of this either.

Science backs me on this – a Bupa study found that among the employees who don’t take a proper lunch break every day, a quarter feel pressured to do as they see their boss skipping lunch. And you don’t want “hangry” employees on your hands. Hangry, an amalgam of hungry and angry, is the phenomenon whereby some people get grumpy and short-tempered when they’re overdue for a feed, as proven by The University of Sydney’s associate professor Amanda Salis.

In putting together this list, I spoke to See Yap Siang, vice president of group resourcing, Alliance Bank Malaysia, who believes that a manager must be just, trustworthy, empathetic, and visionary in leading a team towards a common goal agreed by all in the team.

He says: “I would never ask my team to deliver tasks that I am not able to support them on, or execute them without full information and knowledge of the subject; or that will jeopardise their integrity and reputation.”

Wong Woon Man, head of HR, Allianz Malaysia, agrees: “I would never ask my team to do something without providing them some background information. It is important that they understand why they are being asked to complete a task and the expected outcome.”

She adds: “If they are involved in one part of an overall bigger assignment, we should help them see how their part fit into the overall bigger picture.  When the team understands the end goal, they are also able to suggest different ways for approaching an assignment and delivering on the goal.”

Another issue that See raised resonated with me on both counts: “I would never ask my team to prioritise work or blindly pursue career progression over their family. Additionally, I would not expect them to listen to me without questioning and respect me just because I am the boss. I believe respect needs to be earned.”

That point See made about a work-life balance intersects with another thing I would never expect my team to do – come to office or work on a weekend unless driven by a top-down mandate.

Lee Quane, regional director of ECA International in Asia, takes a wider perspective to this: “As the team’s manager, I would demonstrate what I expect of my employees in my own work – never asking of them what I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself. It would be rather unjustified on my part to ask my colleagues to go above and beyond without any clear direction or leadership.”

In Quane’s words, the message is clear and vitally important. “If you want to be an effective leader, to inspire a team, you can’t shout orders from afar. Leading by example is not only motivational, it is also the best way to communicate your ideas.”

Do these views resonate with your leadership style? I would love to hear your thoughts on empathetic leadership and learn from your experience in the comments below.

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