You Can’t Teach Give a Sh*t


Amidst a firestorm, a friend and colleague of mine by the name of Erik Sover said to me, “You can’t teach give a shi*.

What a funny quip, I remember thinking to myself.  Then wondering if this bold statement could be true.  How could the world be so perverse that you can’t teach someone to care? In reality, the real question we should ask ourselves is can you teach someone to care about what you care about?  I would contend that the answer is no if their reason for caring is strictly for your benefit.

Problem Surfacing: If you are a leader or business owner this may be the genesis of a tremendous quagmire.  If your people don’t care about the same things you do, are they going to represent your company, brand, product, service, etc the way they need to be to drive maximum success?

The answer is NO!

This begs a question? Why should the employees care about what you do.  At the root of this question lies your answer.

First, managers are notorious for driving tasks and failing to relate.  “You need to do this because that is how I want it done” or “If you like your job you will do it this way.” Both hollow threats or catalysts for a revolving door.

Second, they shouldn’t. But, they do care about their success which in summation of all the supporting cast equals the organizations success. So how do we unleash their inner desire to care?

Leadership is the key to this riddle.  If I were a leader, how would I help my teams to genuinely care about the vision of the company? To deliver at the highest level every time? To make sure our customers are satisfied beyond their expectations?

I parallel it to your childhood, why did you do what you were told? Probably because you feared the consequences, not because you agreed with what you were told.  Did it motivate you in any way?

Quote Office Space “It only makes me do just enough not to get fired,” or grounded as a child.

In short, there are 2 major considerations here that both warrant lengthy discussions (most to be had at a later time)

1. Motivation – No matter how much you wish they would be, people aren’t motivated to make you successful.  They are sometimes motivated by money, power, prestige, or survival (and other ways too).  So if you think they are going to do you a favor to be nice, I would think again. (If you believe that, you probably are way over your head)

2. Power – It is critical that leaders understand that the most influential power does not come from your title, reward, or coerciveness.  It really comes from your know how, and your track record.  We will call that Knowledge and Referent Power.  In short, you cannot lead people consistently by crossing your arms, paying them more, or scaring them.  People will respond to you out of respect for your accomplishments, your passion, and your track record for success

So can you teach Give a Shi*?

The answer is yes, but you can’t teach it for the reason’s that you may give a (sh)it.

Leaders…Know that!



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16 Responses to You Can’t Teach Give a Sh*t

  1. Gabriella O'Rourke says:

    Dan, you are fast becoming a must read for me… The only way to get people to give a sh** is for you to care a da** about what’s important to them and make sure that what you’re asking them to do has personal significance and return on investment for them. My work has me engaging with Partners in professional service firms – all of whom are also the Owners of the business. You’d imagine that would make them all care about the same things. Interestingly, there are still many variations of what’s important to a business owner, and its not all about money. Philosophically they might appreciate that an initiative or action is good for the profitable growth of the firm overall (such as sharing client information or focusing on client service) but unless they feel it will personally enhance their ability to achieve their goals they still won’t act. And its not that they are being difficult, obstinate or selfish. Its just human nature that they will focus on those things that are most meaningful to them personally. I have to figure out for each individual partner what might make them give willingly of their best to a project and then tap into that motivation. So its not about teaching them to give a Sh**, its really about giving a da** about what’s going to move them.

  2. Jim says:

    My perspective is that you can’t teach Give a Shit, but you can get people to give a shit about what’s important to you. In fact, I think you can do it in 3 simple (not necessarily easy) steps.

    Step 1 – Decide that you give a shit about them. (Too often overlooked. It’s much easier to just tell them what to do than to care about them as people.)

    Step 2 – Find out what they already give a shit about. (Give a shit comes in 2 flavors – ‘moving towards’ and ‘moving away’.)

    Step 3 – Position what’s important to you so that helps them get more of what they want and how it helps them avoid what they don’t want. (Extra powerful – ask them questions so they tell you why it’s in their personal best interest to do more of what benefits the company. It’s called conversation and many ‘leaders’ only know how to tell people what to do.)

    Thanks for this thought-inspiring post. It helped me get new levels of clarity for myself.


    • Jim and Gabriella – You both bring up a point that I really agree with! That is about alignment and empathy. Two ideologies that I subscribe to.

      The team has to feel cared for and supported. When people feel understood, they are more likely to want to support you. (Covey’s seven habits right?)

      Thank you for your support and readership. I look forward to having you back to the blog soon.

  3. I think enthusiasm/passion are contagious, so if you are all fired up about something it is natural for those around you to “go there” with you.
    I also believe in a higher calling than money, power, prestige:
    “Trust God, Clean House(internally), Help Others. I am simpleton that way.
    Attitudes start at the top of the food chain…thats why I got out of Corporate radio. Those guys are making money hand over fist without any passion and they hate their jobs. They live/die by the numbers and forget that sometimes you just gotta go all Tom Cruise in risky biz and say WTF.
    (te-he) I am a rebel now that I joined your tribe!
    I am rambling now and might very well have missed the whole point, but I made mine. *thats how I roll* LOL

  4. Another great post, Dan. I believe that caring is contagious, and leaders who guide with threats (“do this if you like your job”) are missing the point. Fearing consequences results in compliance – doing just enough not to get fired, as you point out. But leaders have to get engaged with their employees, if they want to inspire action. If you know what drives others, you don’t have to teach a thing. At the end of the day, the voice we all follow is our own. True leaders create a path that resonates with those they wish to inspire – and that’s what you’ve done with this post. Nice job.

  5. Christopher says:

    Daniel, thank you for sharing your insights.

    By you wrestling with these issues, it is clear that you have empathy towards the people you are leading, and care about them! I think there is much more hashing out from some of the ideas you present, but from these inklings you are on the right track.

    My personal leadership influence comes from the model Starbucks has instilled in me. Howard Schultz wrote “Pour Your Heart Into It”, and in that book he talks about getting the workers to buy into his vision and his company. You can not buy the hearts and minds of the workers, but you can help to create an environment where people are empowered to be more, do more, and find fulfillment in what they do. When you can do that, you will have a group of people that are willing to rally behind you and your cause.

    These are my words, echoing what I hear you saying and grappling with. I think this blog shows how seriously you take the issue of leadership, and I look forward to the leader you become as a result of your dedication to that aspiration.

  6. Erik Sover says:

    Thank you Dan for the mention above. I appreciate being associated with “giving a S#!%.”

    Thinking about this over the weekend after having read it a few times, the motivation factor I think is what drives it. I look at those around me and what motivates them. Its possessing passion about something. The persons passion can be coaching a sport, family, personal satisfaction amongst so many others. Each persons motivation and passion is different. How does one in a leadership role spin an employees passion and motivation and turn it to “give a S#*@” mentality that can be sustained for the greater good of an organization? I can only speak personally for myself. Each endeavor I undertake I view as my own “personal business.” Its my money. Its my well being. Its my personal satisfaction when things go well, and its my butt when it doesn’t. And to avoid it being my butt, I motivate myself to act in the best interests of the “business” or project throughout all phases (Beginning to End). The more it goes well, the better each employee within an organization will be. Engaging employees is key as mentioned above. That is my challenge.

    Thank you again, Dan. Great Read.

  7. Chris Drew says:

    Playing devil’s advocate for a moment:
    Passion/giving a sh*t is important. But it’s not essential to competency. I’ve taught with highly competent teachers who were not passionate. I’ve played college ball with teammates who were stars but who had no passion or emotion for the game. I’ve had employees who were highly skilled but not all that passionate. We’ve all worked with such folks.

    In general, most people want to be motivated. And leaders motivate. But I’m not sure it’s in a leader’s best interest to try to instill passion. Giving a sh*t, I assume, falls somewhere along the continuum of passionate to competency (i.e. giving enough of a sh*t to actually work to be good at something). Folks who are below some standard of competency for a task or a job already don’t give a sh*t. As a leader in a business we should not be distracted by trying to save such a soul. Within a business, as a leader, we have to be able to recognize the Don’t Give a Sh*ts.
    I see that you are also a teacher (as am I). And in a classroom teaching Give a Sh*t is a different story.

  8. Pingback: Key to Success: Surround Yourself With Those Who Give a Sh*t | The Savvy Intern by YouTern

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  10. This was a great article – you nailed it!

    As a manager, it was the differentiator amongst staff who over-performed and those that did the minimum. Granted, some leadership skills are necessary, however, you can’t force people to go the extra mile. They either have it or they don’t. How to find those that are in it for the reward, sense of accomplishment, pride, etc. can be tricky.

    I would only say that if you do find those that do give a S**T, reward them, promote them, praise them and never let them go. If you can assemble a team around you with them, then your leadership could be considered brilliant. And, no, I’m not talking about political animals or leaders who prefer to have people do whatever they tell them to …. that’s not leadership, that’s weakness.

    Enjoyable read, as always …

    • Jeanette – thank you so much for stopping by – I love your ideas about rewarding your best. I couldn’t agree more. If you hire and retain the best, executing your strategy becomes much simpler.
      I hope you come by more often!

  11. Mike Lehr says:

    I found this a thought provoking post, Dan. Thank you. I do believe we can teach people to care; however, not all of them. I’ve found that 85% are teachable. The key though is not vision; it’s relationships. Relationships are more powerful. For example, the best way to encourage a non-voter to vote is not to get him riled up about the issues at hand but rather to have a friend ask him to vote. It’s about relationships not vision.

    Yes, you are correct when you say, “So if you think they are going to do you a favor to be nice, I would think again.” This is what I would ask you to think about again: Would you do a favor for someone just to be nice? If the answer is, “No,” then you certainly can’t expect others to do this if you wouldn’t do it yourself. MBO’s are about expectations, so if you expect people to let you down, they will. If you expect people to be untrustworthy, they will be. If you don’t expect people to do favors out of niceness, they won’t.

    Still, you’re right. It’s more than just being nice. We need to teach people to care about us (not the vision). We can only do that by showing we care about them, and we need to do this in other ways beyond dollars and cents. Yes, many folks might agree to what I’m saying, but I did notice that the word relationships was not used in your post or any comments. We have a natural, unconscious bias towards objective, tangible things like vision because it’s much easier to create a vision than to develop relationships. Relationships are fuzzy and nebulous, difficult to grasp. Gee, anyone can write a vision on a piece of paper. How do you capture the essence of relationships on paper?

    So, let’s boil this down to technique. I’ll share one.

    Ask employees to help you; don’t tell them what to do. People feel better about themselves when they help others; show them how they help you. One time, I corrected an attendance problem simply by asking the employee for his help. I didn’t threaten him or reprimand him for not showing up on time. Instead, I asked, “Dan, could you do me a favor? [He agreed.] I really don’t like taking time out to complete the paperwork to document a tardiness, so would you help me out by showing up on time or calling me directly if you can’t?”

    Yes, you can teach 85% of the people to give a hoot, but you will not be able to do it if you don’t give a hoot about them on a personal level. Furthermore, focus on their connection to YOU, not the company, not some vision, but YOU. Remember, studies show that happiness is determined by relationships. No study yet has shown happiness improving because of some vision.

    Again, very thought provoking, Dan, and I enjoyed the comments. I found myself thinking about them quite a bit over the last week. Thank you for reminding us about this on Twitter.

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  13. bigguysmama says:

    Oh my gosh, I think about this very thing at work! Can’t even put into words how reading this makes me feel abt the company I work for. I still do a great job because that’s how I am, but I see the people around me & those not quite far up the food chain, but higher than me, and I just shake my head.

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