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Here’s How Great Leaders Help Employees Thrive

Great leaders help employees figure out how to connect their skills and passion to the purposes of the organization.

We can do remarkable things when we listen to our hearts. It’s where our deepest desires reside, fueling our actions (for better or worse) and guiding us onward toward our purpose. Gary Harpst says the job of the leader is to help employees figure out how to connect their skills and passion to the purposes of the organization. With this careful alignment, individuals and the organization thrive.

“Exploring desire is really an inside job,” says Gary Harpst, author of Built to Beat Chaos: Biblical Wisdom for Leading Yourself and Others. “You can’t do this self-examination for your employees, but you can guide them to take an honest look within. Further, by knowing yourself and keeping your desires and actions aligned, you set a powerful example for those around you to follow.”

The great news is we’ve all got a God-given primal desire to “win” at something we set our sights on. Along with this desire, we have an inherent power to work with others to overcome the chaos that stands in our way. Leaders can help employees unlock that power, even when it’s hidden, and help the organization in the process.

A few tips:

Help employees find the disconnect between their desires and their contradictory actions.

Teach people to hold up the mirror and look at what they do. For example, if an employee insists that they want more responsibility, but by the quality of their work and their attitude, you can show them how their actions and their desires don’t line up. You may be able to help the employee recognize some important (and hard) truths and change their behaviors or find a situation that serves them and the organization better.

“No one wants to do what they should do all the time,” says Harpst. “For many people, making the cold calls required to grow sales isn’t as easy (or fun) as charting projected growth in a spreadsheet and envisioning their commission. But if you understand your tendency and the tendency of others not to do the things needed to reach their goals, you’ll better understand what it means to lead yourself and others.”


…And to sit in the discomfort of exploring their desires.

It can be uncomfortable or outright painful to probe the turmoil of motives, ideas, and half-formed thoughts inside us. But it’s worth figuring out why we behave the way we do. Ask the tough questions that get employees thinking. It can cause some uncomfortable conversations, but these discoveries often lead to big revelations and beneficial behavioral changes.


When conflict occurs, look for the root desire creating chaos.

Sometimes good employees make bad decisions, or rather, let their desires hijack their behavior. If you can understand the reasoning behind a person’s counter-productive actions, it’s much easier to reconcile the behavior and get on a constructive path, says Harpst. Again, this can be uncomfortable for both the employee and the leader, but getting to the why behind actions will result in greater long-term change.


Build trust by sharing your thoughts and motivations.

There’s no greater vulnerability than sharing what we are really thinking, says Harpst. Once shared, thoughts can’t be taken back. But this kind of openness is required to solve problems and build teamwork. Trust must be built and earned over time for this type of openness to occur. Effective leaders must be good at sustaining trust within the team.


Put the right people in the right roles.

An employee who isn’t thriving in one role may fit better in another area. Building a strong relationship with your team will help you determine an employee’s engagement and ensure their desires line up with their work. When they are in their “zone,” they will contribute more, will have more energy and more insight, and will be much easier to interact with.

“Desire is a precious resource,” concludes Harpst. “Don’t let it go to waste or fight against it by putting people in the wrong roles and letting potential go undiscovered. Put a desire to use and allow it to help you accomplish truly great things.”


Gary Harpst is the author of Built to Beat Chaos: Biblical Wisdom for Leading Yourself and Others. He is the founder and CEO of LeadFirst. LeadFirst was founded in 2000 (as Six Disciplines) with a mission of building effective leaders and helping small and mid-size companies manage change, grow, and execute. Having been a CEO for 40 years, Gary has experienced the challenges of every aspect of business ownership, from start-up to rapid growth to acquiring other companies to being acquired. (Solomon Software, which he co-founded, was purchased by Great Plains and ultimately sold to Microsoft.) He is a keynote speaker, writer, and teacher whose areas of focus include leadership, business, and the integration of faith at work. He has been recognized as one of the Top 100 of the nation’s top thought-leaders in management and leadership by Leadership Excellence magazine. In addition to Built to Beat Chaos, he has written two other books: Six Disciplines for Excellence and Execution Revolution. Learn more at leadfirst.ai.


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