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A few weeks back I wrote a post about the language we use in management. Describing a post in HBR.org giving advice to leaders and managers I complained:
Just look at the language. I, the little employee, need you, the big boss, to take control. I cannot excite myself. I need you, my liege, to get me excited. I want you, my monarch, to impress me and set me up to win. You are on top. I am in the bottom waiting for your holiness to give me some autonomy.
Really? Are you serious? Has it turned 1900 and I haven’t noticed? Or maybe more like the 1200?
Language and words matter. They affect our thinking and more importantly our behavior. I was thinking about this issue while reading Tom Peters’ blog post about helping. He describes Edgar Schein’s new book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help and some of the principles described in it. This is one of them:
PRINCIPLE 2: Effective Help Occurs When the Helping Relationship Is Perceived to Be Equitable.
In the comments to that post, you find a comment by Schein himself explaining what this principle means:
The reason a helping relationship has to be equitable is that all relationships work best when each party feels he or she is getting something out of it, not necessarily the same thing.
Peters is fond of saying, and I have taken after him, that one of the most important roles of managers is to help employees, or take hurdles out of their way (or as he calls it: Boss as CHRO—Chief Hurdle Removal Officer – see #125 here). I think Schein’s perspective completes that. It is not just help, it is equitable help. It is help that comes out of partnership and not out of hierarchy and control.