The impact of leaders – positive or negative, but always big
Everyone has a default or preferred way of handling the role of manager or leader, and some are more effective than others. Often people were appointed into management roles for skills other than their management capacity. Not many people are born as great leaders or managers. Too often that preferred default style (the result of a person’s personality and what they’ve learnt both formally and informally through modeling others) becomes their modus operandi.
While great leaders help produce committed, performance-oriented organisations, ineffective leadership has the opposite impact. It erodes everyone's ability to even deal well with 'business as usual', let alone meet the extra demands in times of change.
Just a few recent story headlines capture this problem convincingly:
- “Unpredictable Leaders Make Employees Crazy”;
- “How Bad Bosses Kill Employee Engagement”;
- “Leaders who shut down communications miss information that might solve their important problems”;
- “Failing to give feedback to the team is a missed leadership opportunity”;
- “The effects of micromanagement on morale and creativity in the workplace”.
Because leaders influence so many people in the organisation as well as externally, a little bit of improvement makes a lot of difference. Leadership development is an area where your investment gets a multiplied return.
Indicators of great leadership
There are plenty of indicators now of what makes a good or even great leader. Two of the key models we work with are Emotional Intelligence and Transformational Leadership. These both reveal much about the tools and skillsets of a leader, but much more than that, they are about the very essence of great leadership.
Emotional intelligence involves a set of competences that can be learnt - and almost anyone can get better at using it. EI at the most basic level involves understanding emotions in ourselves and others, and effectively managing our emotional states while influencing those of others.
Daniel Goleman says that a leader’s mood and accompanying behaviours are such potent drivers of business success that a leader’s premier or primal task—is emotional leadership. A leader needs to make sure that not only are they regularly in an optimistic, authentic, high-energy mood, but also that, through their chosen actions, their followers feel and act that way, too. Managing for financial results, then, begins with the leader managing their inner life so that the right emotional and behavioural chain reaction occurs.
In ‘Working with Emotional Intelligence’, Goleman outlines the ‘Social Skills’ aspects of EI, and describes this area as ‘adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others’. He says this includes the areas of Influence: wielding effective tactics for persuasion, Communication: listening openly and sending convincing messages, Conflict management: negotiating and resolving disagreements a Leadership: inspiring and guiding individuals and groups, Change catalyst: initiating or managing change, Building bonds: nurturing instrumental relationships, Collaboration and cooperation: working with others toward shared goals, and Team capabilities: creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals.
It has been demonstrated time and again that a leader using a ‘transformational’ approach, balanced with the right levels of 'transactional' behaviour and virtually no passive or avoidant behaviour, inspires those working above, below and around them to produce better results regarding levels of effort, effectiveness and to be more satisfied. As well as setting performance expectations and managing against these, transformational leaders inspire, motivate, challenge and coach. We can show you how, and getting it right is what delivers performance beyond expectations.
Atwork's principal consultant Paul Murphy is fully accredited in:
- the MLQ leadership development system - the system best supported by independent research and used by leading organisations around the globe to build transformational leadership.
- the EQi-2.0 as well as the EBW systems for measuring and developing emotional intelligence.
What is happening with Leadership?
US-based research found recently (reported in ‘The Flattening of Corporate Management’) that the average number of direct reports to the CEO increased from four in 1986 to seven in 2014. So those in the top role need to be more efficient and effective in these more demanding times.
Fortunately, there’s also an improvement in the research and methods available to guide leadership performance. Approaches such as ‘transformational leadership’ can help you take your leaders from good to great. Emotional intelligence is said to be responsible for as much as two-thirds of the success or otherwise of leaders.
Our ‘Leading at Work’ programs are designed for senior execs as a mix of coaching and groupwork aimed at quickly enhancing leadership capacity. They can include benchmarking using leadership profiling, 360-degree feedback processes, or staff reviews through meetings and questionnaires to assess how things are going now. This enables a more customised approach when preferred, as well as adding to the ‘shared language’ within the team.
Teams at the top
How do you lead a team of leaders? How well does a team of leaders communicate together, and follow when needed? Research and experience tells us that it is not always optimal. Leadership teams typically consist of people who are attracted to directing and leading others. When you get a roomful of such people, important aspects of communicating – listening for example – can suffer. This of course depends on the level of leadership capacity; the best leaders will also be able to work together highly effectively when this is needed. And increasingly, it is needed.
Even good leadership teams of great individuals can massively improve their impact by improving the way they work together.
A ‘teams at the top’ program does just that. We identify the key team issues, work with you to map the ideal team culture, and set up the mechanisms that will help make that happen.
Organisational hierarchies are becoming flatter. Research by the NBER found that over the last two decades CEOs have increased the number of managers who report directly to the top with a reduction in the ranks of middle managers. This puts those middle managers who remain, and frontline managers, in positions of more demand.
Managers as a result now tend to have more authority, and are required to be more effective strategists and decision-makers.
They are now expected to approach and understand their daily work of managing from a more global perspective - demonstrating corporate knowledge beyond the traditional scope of their role.
This is rewarding, but can also be beyond the current capacity of some. If this is the case, the organisation suffers. Managers in this situation need help.
Leadership and performance
One primary function of a leader or manager is to inspire, encourage and help their people perform. But not many do it well. In fact a recent Forbes article noted that 46 percent of upper-level managers admit they fall short in the area of “Holds people accountable—firm when they don’t deliver.”
Part of the problem is that while we associate a management appointment with progressing within our organisation; not all people are naturally cut out for managing, and for some learning the skills and making the transition might be too big a leap.
Performance management is demanding in that it does require some rigor as well as skill. But it is really what management is all about – producing good performance in others.
And most people who are skilled enough technically to be appointed to a management role and have the ability to learn, can also learn to be a better manager.
Managing for performance is not just simply a matter of telling people to be accountable. And micromanagement (tight direction and close monitoring of performance) is never highly effective and usually comes at a great cost as it has a negative impact on the discretionary effort of most people. A better approach is the one that leads, inspires, and empowers while supporting and directing where needed.
Leaders and managers often get stuck on managing performance, and particularly on managing under-performance. In fact in many organisations these two are confused!
Ah, but feedback… How do you feel when someone asks you ‘would you like some feedback?’ While some robust characters might welcome it, most feel something akin to those footsteps behind you in a dark alley at night. Past experience or anecdotal knowledge tells many of us that the forthcoming feedback is not likely to be positive. The result is that the classical ‘fight or flight’ reflex is triggered. The amygdala - the brain’s integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation but also the structure at the center of most brain events associated with fear - kicks in. Suddenly no-one is listening actively let alone listening to learn, even if the intentions were good. And the intentions of providing the feedback, if the were good, tend to get lost, and at worst relationships can be damaged. Feedback needs to be handled professionally and with care – and very much positively if an ongoing successful relationship is part of the goal.
These considerations are all important in managing performance at all levels – and they can be learnt. When used in together with accurate matching of individuals to roles, relevant Key Performance Indicators, reporting and reviewing, great leadership and a good performance management system is a pretty effective formula for helping individuals, teams and organisations get results.
Millennials are moving into management
Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. They're generally seen as those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, making them anything from around 35 down to under 15 in the year 2015.
A late 2014 piece by Dan Schawbel, a contributor on Forbes.com, noted that nearly 13% of all millennials in America were managers already. The number was of course expected to grow in 2015 as millennials become the largest percentage of the workforce for the first time. Another recent study quoted in the piece noted that 27% of millennials are already managers, 5% are senior managers and 2% are executives. They are aiming high - in 10 years, 47% want to be managers or senior managers, 7% want to be executives and 15% want to be business owners. Ernst & Young recently noted an even stronger trend - in fact 59% of their managers were already millennials and 18% senior managers.
Another study by CareerBuilder found that 38% of the workforce is already managed by millennials and that this has already created issues including favouritism towards other millennials and discounting of the knowledge of older workers.
(if you're interested in finding out how millennial you are, you might like to check out this quiz (link leads to external website with no relation to atwork)
Some younger managers are undoubtedly great at what they do - particularly those with a natural tendency towards the role. One challenge is that despite their aspirations, these new managers are often unprepared for leadership or management. They may have often not had even basic management training, but are being promoted into these roles partly out of a cultural preference for youth, partly because they have leading technical skills, and partly because of the loss of older workers through retirement or a lack of their commitment to maintaining such roles.
It's wise to consider just how to ensure that your younger managers (any new manager) will have that basic management toolkit at their disposal, as well as enough emotional intelligence and leadership capacity to have a positive impact all around them.
The fortunate thing is that these capabilities are all learnable.