Brady Wilson

This post is based on content from Brady Wilson's latest book, Beyond Engagement: A Brain-Based Approach That Blends the Engagement Managers Want with the Energy Employees Need.

There aren’t a lot of managers who, as they eat their morning cornflakes, think “How do I make my employees feel like children today?” 

In fact, most leaders want their dealings with employees to be adult-to-adult. 

But no matter how enlightened and well-intentioned they are, managers often treat their employees like kids. Why is that? 

The answer lies in the human brain.

The brain science
The emotional brain perceives “shared responsibility”—that is, relinquishing ownership and control, and placing one’s reputation in another person’s hands—as a threat. 

In response to the prospect of sharing responsibility with another person, the brain experiences: 

  • A loss of control
  • A lack of certainty
  • The fear of failure
  • Conflict sparked by competing needs

These are not positive feelings! As such, the brain will naturally take measures to avoid sharing responsibility. 

Where does this show up at work?
In the business world, relinquishing control can feel like a risk to managers, so they will often: 

  • take all the responsibility, letting employees off the hook but giving employees ultimate control over the results; or
  • give all responsibility over to the employees, ceding control but getting off the hook in the risk department.

Taking a binary approach to responsibility seems much safer to the leader’s brain than sharing responsibility. 

Moreover, depending on the situation, managers may also slip into other parenting behaviours that include being too directive with one employee, too supportive with another, and too hands-off with yet another. 

Why does this matter?
A parenting approach communicates a negative message that creates a learned helplessness in employees: “you’re missing something, and I need to supply it myself.”  

That kind of message ends up introducing all sorts of negativity into the organizational culture: guilt, shame and compulsion; control, manipulation and micro-managing; intimidation and bullying; and, sometimes, unhealthy employee-versus-employee competition.

Essentially, parenting does nothing to boost engagement or employee energy. In fact, it has the exact opposite effect. 

But the fact is this: many employees already have what leaders think is missing. They have the desire to make a difference, the intelligence to generate great ideas, and the need to feel pride in doing a great job. 

How to make this work
Unlocking discretionary effort and helping employees access all the power tools of their brain’s executive function requires switching from a parenting to a partnering approach
Essentially, partnering is about two people contracting to hold each other accountable for their impact on results, and their impact on relationships.

Managers who are aware of their natural parenting instincts and able to shift to partnering can unleash energy that actually benefits their business, including:

  • cultivating decision-making capability among employees,
  • growing people’s talents, and
  • calling people to higher levels of accountability.

In other words, it is well worth making the shift from parenting to partnering.

Learn more about partnering with employees: download a FREE copy of The Engagement Paradox today!

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Brady Wilson

Brady Wilson

Co-Founder of Juice Inc, Thought Leader & Author

Alex Somos

Alex Somos

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