“Leaders are surrounded by liars.” Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries
It really doesn’t amaze me how some leaders come to feel they are a cut above. After all, who can blame them? As they climb the organizational ladder, the probability that they’re getting honest feedback rapidly diminishes. Certainly, those above them may still be candid, but those on the lower rungs, not so much. Few employees will risk calling out their bosses on their bad behavior or inadequate efforts … and this is not good for the leader or the company’s bottom- line.
The slippery slope
The usual case is that remarks from those working beneath a leader tend towards the positive. Flattery, ego stroking or careful wording – whatever an employee feels is necessary to keep their job – is the route most take. Whether it be due to a socially ingrained deference to authority or out of fear of risking one’s job, most leaders simply do not get the feedback they need to become great at enlisting the best from their people. It’s easy to understand how, over time, a leader can completely lose touch with what people are really thinking.
Know anyone like this?
Senior leaders who have evolved double standards abound. For example, they might expect their team to return their phone calls or emails promptly, while they themselves no longer feel compelled to do the same. They may also come to expect much from others in the way of effort but they themselves don’t feel the need to break much of a sweat.
Due to the lack of honest upward-focused feedback, a leader may also have expectations disconnected from the reality of available resources. I’ve observed many situations where overworked, but committed employees, give it their all but still fall short of their boss’s requests. All this because no one wants to appear a ‘complainer’ or of somehow ‘not being up to the task’ by pointing out resource shortcomings.
All this is both de-motivating and de-moralizing for employees. If people don’t feel that their boss is behaving with mutual respect and accountability, they’ll eventually head for the hills.
The elephant in the room
Of all the reasons people leave companies, having a leader who they have a poor relationship with them tops the list. According to Gallup, 50% of employees who quit cite their immediate manager as the reason.
While someone may initially be drawn towards a particular company because of the compensation, mission or growth opportunities, they most often leave because they don’t have a good relationship with their boss and not because of the pull of better offers elsewhere.
It soon becomes very clear why leaders need to get honest feedback along the way. Not only is it necessary to retain their top talent, but to do otherwise is to throw money out the door.
Losing good employees costs time, talent and money. The stakes are fairly high when replacing a team member. The total cost of replacing an employee can be anywhere from thousands of dollars to 1.5 - 2x their annual salary. It involves much more than placing a new ad.
The real cost of losing an employee includes these impacts:
- The cost of recruiting including the advertising, interviewing, screening and hiring.
- The cost of onboarding a new hire including training and time from their new manager can be Over the course of 2-3 years a business may have to invest 10-20 percent of a new hire’s salary, or more, for training.
- Lost productivity - it may take a new hire 1 - 2 years to get up to the speed and eﬃciency of an existing employee.
- Lost engagement and cultural impact - other team members who see high turnover tend to disengage and lose their will to give their all. Both productivity and customer service can take a dive. Morale can also easily slide downwards…quickly.
The elephant in the room is the fact that many companies simply do not have programs in place to train their leaders in the primary foundation of leadership: knowing how to get the best from others.
Give leaders support…the kind they really need
All too often leaders are thrust into their new positions with minimal support. They are not given the training or feedback that it takes to engage and get the best thinking from their team…and this is bad for business. This baptism by fire scenario pushes new leaders to fall back on what they’ve seen modeled or may understand as ‘leadership’.
One need only cast a brief glance towards the uncivil discourse within our political realm to see extraordinarily harmful examples of bullying and coercive leadership. But bad examples are everywhere. There are many examples of ‘command and control’ leadership styles throughout industry. This is why all leaders, both new and experienced, deserve and require training in how to do it differently.
Companies need to teach and coach their leaders to take an active role in building engagement plans with their employees. They should hold leaders accountable, track their progress, and ensure they continuously focus on engaging their teams. A leader’s ability to engage their teams should be part of their formal performance review process.
Research also makes clear that direct supervisors are the main components underlying how much discretionary effort employees deliver to their jobs. An engaged employee puts their heart and shoulders into their work because they want to. This is where all of the magic happens. It is this extra effort that makes the difference between acceptable productivity and stellar productivity, a mediocre product and a superb one, adequate customer service and outstanding customer service.
Where does it start?
Perhaps the most important piece in all of this is to realize that it may start with you. Take time to reflect on your own behaviors. Are you part of the problem or the solution?
If you are a leader that has elevated yourself above your team, it may mean that you are drunk on your own kool-aid. This behavior is not helping to engage your team, produce the results you want, or work through the issues that you need to face.
Being a cut above is not helping anyone. Plus, kool-aid really is for kids.
Do you want to learn more about employee engagement? Check out this recent analyst insights paper: “2018 Employee Engagement Survey: HR Professionals Share Their Advice for a More Engaged Workforce.”
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