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Leadership: Managing Diverse Work Ethic

By Bill Marklein


One of the biggest challenges for leaders is to manage diverse work ethics. How do we motivate, inspire and empower people to achieve more with such a wide range of ambition? Most leaders are self-starters, ambitious, consistent and have a strong work ethic and want the same for others. Most leaders have growth mindsets—wanting to continuously grow and evolve in a positive trajectory. The desire for upward mobility is a commonality. This pedigree is why people are in leadership roles and have gained the instant respect of the people they lead.

The trap is that most leaders think people should be more like them—"Why wouldn’t everyone want to be a leader like me?” “Why wouldn’t everyone want to take on my daily habits and practices? There is a culture absolute in every organization that there is a wide range of work ethics. Some people will push at all costs to get to the next level. Some people just want a steady paycheck and to be present for their families. Some people are merely surviving with personal struggles outside of work such as caring for a family member or basic childcare. Here is the leadership epiphany: It is ok that not everyone has the same work ethic. In fact, some of the best role players and reliable, consistent team members do not want upward mobility and they do not want to manage people.

Have you ever seen a team of salespeople with no role players? They all are trampling over each other for the next raise, promotion and praise leading to a toxic culture. Have you ever seen a sports team where every individual is about personal achievement and glory instead of the team’s success? A toxic culture certainly is formed.

As a leader, creating a self-aware culture of the ambition gap will also solve a majority of the work-life balance issues. People that do not want to put in the extra time before or after work (long hours) should not be punished. People that want to put in the extra time before or after work should be rewarded. The higher the ambition, willingness to go the extra mile and show up, the more opportunities there will be. This is a fact in any space of life. But we cannot make people feel guilty for not choosing that path if they are getting their work done satisfactorily and there are not performance issues.

Things to ask oneself:

  1. Do I have unrealistic expectations for every person?

  2. Do I know what makes people come alive outside of work?

  3. Have I asked each person how they see their role and expectations on the team?

  4. Have I asked each person what motivates them? What is their WHY?

  5. Am I being a good resource for their work-life balance?

  6. Has there been an honest conversation about desired upward growth?

The big idea here is that leaders need to have a realistic expectation of what each individual on the team is pursuing in work and life. This is how you create real engagement! When we see people as human beings with lives outside of work, we are in better position to manage diverse work ethic and ambition. This authentic leadership approach needs to be accompanied by real conversations with every individual on the team. Truly listen. When these conversations happen, work ethic is seen not as a sky-high utopian bar to elevate everyone to but a way to achieve teamwork, trust and win at life together.

About the Author: Bill Marklein is a sought-after keynote speaker in the space of leadership, culture and emotional intelligence and invites you to Employ Humanity Leadership Day 2024 in Milwaukee at the iconic Harley-Davidson Museum. If you liked this article, please give it a share. 

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