In the movie, Enemy at the Gates, there is a scene in which Nikita Khrushchev, who later became the Premier of the Old Soviet Union, carpets the political officers for their ineffectiveness in motivating soldiers to fight for Mother Russia. So far as he and they know, everything has been tried. People have been threatened, sent to the Gulag, or executed. Even their families haven’t been spared.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction where Hollywood and its ilk is concerned; but knowing what we do about the brutality of that regime, what is portrayed in the film may not be that far from the truth.
In the midst of this dressing down, one timid officer suggests that the soldiers should be given hope. It’s here that we learn just how barbarous the Russian military has been. When its troops retreated from the superior force of the Germans, they were mown down by their own army under the orders of Khrushchev who was determined that the city – Stalingrad – should remain in Soviet hands.
The political officer intimates the hopelessness that its soldiers feel when both the Germans and the Russians are their enemies; when they will die whether they are facing west or east.
Do your employees feel like this? Do they feel that they are getting it in the neck from the customers, but that when they turn to you for support, you simply feed them to the dogs?
Patton is reported to have said that he wanted his troops to be more afraid of him than they were of the enemy; but the truth of the matter is that neither you nor your employees are in a life or death situation; and so you can't pretend that they are, or at least not for very long.
You see, all of us need hope. We need to believe that things will get better. If we become convinced that no matter what we do, our situation will not improve, then we'll instead start to look for ways to conserve the energy that we have. We'll stop pushing forward and seek to hold our ground. And as hopelessness becomes more and more certain, we'll retreat into the smallest space possible - one in which each of us alone can survive.
Give them hope
How do you give people hope? It's not by saying whatever you think is necessary to get the results you want. There are managers who believe this to be the case. They are willing to lie to their employees if as a result of doing so it will get them what they want. Of course, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that this, too, will only product short-term results; after all, how many times does someone you know outside of work have to lie to you before you no longer trust him or her?
If you can't create hope by lying, then what's the alternative?
Two things: First, tell the truth. If things are not going as well as you would like, then tell your employees. A common enemy will bring everyone together; and if they're all pulling in the same direction, then your organization is more likely to overcome the present difficulty than if you keep them in the dark.
Second, give them hope. Inspire them. Hope doesn't lie in the admiration of heroes, as suggested in the movie. In wartime, ordinary people do extraordinary things. They get caught up in heat of the moment. It's because they are literally fighting for their lives that they're willing to do what they do.
In a day-to-day work setting, this isn't the case; and that means that hope has to come from knowing that you are on their side. When the going gets tough, they can depend on you to lend a hand and / or offer advice; not come down on them like a ton of bricks.
There's another part of this, too. Just because you're boss is treating you like the enemy doesn't mean that you have to pass on those sentiments. You can be bigger than that. Immaturity isn't limited to teenagers. Plenty of adults have never been able to grow up emotionally.
Show yourself to be a true leader by giving those who work for you genuine hope. Give them good reasons to believe in you. If you do, then there's nothing that they won't do for you.