From the earliest histories of populations and cultures, walls have been built not only to support roof structures and other forms of shelter, but also, and perhaps primarily, as a form of defence – to keep marauding tribes and other instruments of hostility out. Walled cities were the norm and eventually walls were used as boundary barriers – perhaps the most famous of which is the Great Wall of China, a series of walls which separated the Empire of China from nomadic powers to the north. Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman Province of Britannia, separating north and south England and creating the most northern boundary of the Roman Empire. A more modern example of a wall that separated people, even members from the same family, is the Berlin Wall, built by the then Soviet Union to surround the enclave of West Berlin and keep it apart from East Germany for most of the Cold War era. This wall was later dismantled to facilitate a united Germany and break down a world-wide symbol of oppression and isolation. Unfortunately, we still seem to be building walls – the construction of the wall between Mexico and the United States of America is proving to be highly controversial.

Managers, too, build “walls” – sometimes to protect themselves in highly politicised environments, but often because of the execution of poor leadership. These walls or barriers leave employees with feelings of isolation and non-inclusivity and their morale suffers. The walls that managers build are caused by:

  • A lack of engaging employees meaningfully – too little time spent on empathic listening and understanding the respective lives of employees. Employees need to be involved in dialogue with managers who hear their ideas, understand and act on their concerns.
  • Withholding relevant pieces of information – employees crave information, especially in the form of collateral that affects decision-making. All employees have a deep desire to be part of processes where decision-making affects them directly.
  • A failure to recognise great success – showing appreciation for discretionary effort and recognising achievements communicates a strong message that the employee is valued.
  • A failure to address poor performance adequately – not confronting poor individual or team performance sends all the wrong messages. Performance management is a daily activity – it should be fair, with no demonstration of favouritism.
  • A lack of efficient, effective and adequate resources – employees get frustrated as a result of not being in possession of the right equipment to do their work effectively. All resources should be in good working-order and there should be enough of them for everyone.
  • Not being fully present – this encompasses more than physical presence. It involves an emotional connection between the manager and the employee. It communicates that the manager cares. Distracted managers typically are not respected.

Managers should build bridges with employees intentionally. “Bridges” involve the emotional connection that gets established when managers care authentically for employees. “Bridges” give managers the opportunity to walk over to the other side and express understanding. “Bridges” grow trust. “Walls”, however, engender isolation and pain.

Free To Grow offers managers the opportunity to learn how to engage authentically (

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