In my organization’s work with struggling children and their families, one of the basic tenets of our approach is that when you increase structure, you must increase nurture. News flash . . . the same things that work for struggling kids and families also work with the grown-ups you are charged with leading.
When you increase structure, you must increase nurture. That sounds simple enough in theory, however most of us are wired to skew one way or another. If you are a high structure leader, it may seem logical that the way to address continued “misbehaving” on the part of your staff is simply to provide increased structure, more “rules” and less autonomy. For the high nurture leaders out there, you may be proud of your incredibly supportive culture and believe that when you take care of your people, when you do a better job of understanding and responding of their needs, their performance will improve.
If you are strongly wired one way or another, it may seem counter-intuitive to provide the “opposite” of what feels most appropriate given the situation. All things in moderation, my friend. Let’s return to looking at the situation through the lens of our work with kids. Kids need structure. Not heavy-handed or punitive rules, and not 57 of them, however they need to know your expectations and the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Likewise, kids need nurture. They need to know that they can screw up and you will still love and support them. That doesn’t mean you should be a pushover, or doormat to their every whim, but they need you to see them and to be a source of safety and security.
So what, exactly, does the structure/nurture balance look like in the work environment?
- Providing clear expectations and accountability, AND a willingness to offer guidance and support to help your people meet those expectations.
- Making the hard decisions, AND being kinder than you need to be in carrying them out.
- Really listening to and acknowledging the feedback, ideas and proposals offered by your people AND challenging them to demonstrate how their ideas advance the strategic goals of the organization.
Here’s the hard thing about the structure/nurture balance. Under stress, most of us revert to our natural tendencies. If a staff member has fallen far short of your expectations on a critical project and you are a high structure leader, your response is likely to include more expectations and less flexibility. Or, if you are a high nurture leader, you may focus more on responding to the individual explanations or perceived barriers rather than the unmet needs of the organization. In those moments, after you have tried one “dose” of your preferred approach and didn’t get the results you had hoped . . .stop . . . take a deep breath, and intentionally choose a counterbalancing behavior.
What have you got to lose? What you were doing wasn’t working anyway.
How’s your balance?