While it may sound elementary, a leader – by definition – must lead. And a leader cannot lead from behind the scenes. While every organization needs people who work in the shadows, these individuals are the “supporting cast.” However, an effective leader must be front and center, taking an active role in the vision of the company and the growth and success of its employees.
The Result of Hiding Behind the Scenes
According to a recent Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, 26 percent of employees consider themselves totally “disengaged,” 17 percent feel “detached,” and 22 percent classify themselves as “unsupported.” These views, whether real or perceived, reveal that many employees are not happy campers when they are at work. And, over a period of time, demotivated employees will not sustain high performance and productivity levels. Active leadership is the only way to combat these problems and turn the tide of employee disenchantment.
Active leadership paints a persuasive vision of the company’s future that excites workers and encourages them to be an important part of it. This includes allowing employees to offer constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. Neil Giarratana, author of CEO Priorities, warns against “managing by exception,” or being a reactive leader who only engages workers when there is a problem. Employees need regular interactions with their leaders.
Active leaders also understand the importance of being genuinely concerned about their employees. They don’t treat their workers as a means to an end, but as valuable individuals who are responsible for the success of the company.
Active leadership also involves open and honest communication. Keeping workers in the dark is a sure-fire way to promote detachment and disengagement. In their book, Management Reset, authors Edward Lawler III and Christopher Worley write that a failure to communicate with employees about the direction of the company is one of the most common mistakes that leaders make.
Sometimes, there is hesitation to share bad news or to reveal plans that are not completely worked out. However, employees respect honesty and appreciate being “in the loop” during the company’s strategizing or preliminary phases.
Also, active leaders don’t sit in their office all day waiting for status reports. They are out and about, conversing with the people on the ground and in the trenches. This is the only way to obtain an accurate picture of what is happening in the company.
As Gary Hamel succinctly put it, “Leaders serve rather than preside.”
Hamel, author of What Matters Now, stresses the importance of providing workers with the tools that they need to be successful. Active leaders provide an environment that encourages and motivates employees to do their best work. These leaders work to remove any obstacles. This may range from providing additional training when needed, to purchasing software or equipment that makes the job less tedious and time-consuming. It may also include non-tangibles, such as ensuring that workers have a work-life balance.
Terri Williams is a freelance writer who focuses on a wide variety of topics for a range of websites including Business.com.
Talkback: Do you find yourself sinking into becoming less of an active leader? What tips from above do you plan on using to take a more active leadership role? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
“The productivity and competitive problems American manufactures face result from ineffective top management, petrified in place, unwilling to accept change, failing to provide vision and leadership.”
~Phillip Alspach ~
Not all leaders are managers, but all great managers are leaders. Great managers inspire those around them. They understand what it takes to succeed and they’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They also have a vision for their company and work hard to create a positive atmosphere where everyone is motivated to contribute to a common goal.
While it’s always nice to work under someone who exhibits these qualities on a daily basis, chances are you’ll remember those managers who didn’t fit this mold. While no one chooses to be an ineffective manager, sometimes managers lose touch with how to successfully incorporate leadership into their management.
Ineffective managers typically share some negative traits. However, those behaviors don’t have to be permanent; with some corrective measures, bad management can be turned around.
- Ineffective communication: The whole culture of a company can be shaped and crafted by a manager’s words, which means he or she better be a good communicator. When a manager is too focused on upper management tasks, communication with employees tends to suffer. This leaves employees guessing about the company’s objectives and, even worse, doubting the manager’s credentials and commitment to the job. Communication is the lifeblood of any company. Whether it’s in front of a crowd or one-on-one with an employee, a good manager recognizes the power of communication and works hard to hone this skill.
- Showing favoritism: Giving too much attention to some people while ignoring others is a recipe for disaster. Those who are overlooked will feel resentment toward the ineffective manager, and the situation will have a negative impact on their work performance. A good manager understands that his or her presence can often serve as a motivator for every employee. Just a few minutes a day can help employees feel important and allow them to voice their concerns and share their thoughts about the job.
- Making bad hires: Making poor hiring decisions can have a lasting effect on the company’s bottom line, forcing other workers to pick up the slack. No one can have a 100% success rate with new hires, but a good rule of thumb is to hire motivated people with an eagerness to learn. If a manager hires the wrong person, he or she needs to step up and fix the problem, which may mean severing the relationship and moving on. Every manager makes mistakes, but dealing with these mistakes sets the great ones apart as leaders.
- Being overly authoritative: Managers are put in charge because they’ve earned the opportunity to make the company’s important decisions. But that power also brings much responsibility. Ruling with an iron fist can cause employees to become resentful and unproductive. Good managers try to remain as flexible as possible, giving employees the latitude to perform their job in their own way. Instead of using a management position as a means of exerting power, use it as an opportunity to understand that no two people are exactly alike.
- Becoming arrogant: A corner office. A large salary with generous stock options. A private parking space with a nice shiny sports car. The perks of being put in a management role can be enough to make anyone become big-headed. As the boss, others might be afraid to point out your flaws and shortcomings, so managers need to be extra careful not to fall into this trap. A good manager realizes that staying humble is important when building relationships with employees.
- Not acknowledging success: Praise improves morale and gives workers the motivation to strive to be more productive. Few things are more appreciated than a kind word from the person in charge. Too often, ineffective managers isolate themselves from employees and spend their time only with other upper management. Effective managers appreciate the hard work of their employees and make every effort to let them know when they’ve gone above and beyond. It’s a simple gesture that can have lasting effects and create a culture of good will.
- Lack of company vision: Managers aren’t put in charge to keep the status quo. They are expected to be visionaries who can capitalize on the changing business climate. Managers who are overly complacent tend to stifle creativity, miss opportunities and lose market share to competitors. Companies need to remain nimble and innovative to stay relevant, while constantly adjusting the way they do business. A good manager recognizes this and encourages forward-thinking approaches to meet the demands of tomorrow.
Having a management role within a company has its rewards—and it also brings heavy responsibility. Great managers should also be great leaders and be able to step back and evaluate their performance to make sure they are doing their part to create a company culture that motivates, encourages and rewards employees who contribute to the bottom line.
Talkback: Can you think of any other bad habits an ineffective manager might engage in? Share your thoughts below.
“Leadership is no longer about your position. It’s now more about your passion for excellence and making a difference. You can lead without a title.”
~ Robin Sharma ~
A new manager, holding his first ever team meeting in a company that sold medical devices, assumed that an important matter had unanimously been agreed on when one team member called out, “Would this solution have pleased Mr. Hardy?”
Right away, other team members started jotting down notes and brainstorming more ideas.
The new manager later learned that Mr. Hardy had been part of the firm for over 25 years. He had never been a manager, and in fact saw budding youngsters with flashing MBAs get ahead of him. However, whenever a key decision had to be made on a new product or the company came up with a new initiative, he would ask, “Is this the best we can do? How can we create real change in someone’s life?”
Some mocked him, but there were those who listened. That question sparked innovation, leading to enhanced user interface design, better quality assurance, and universally designed products that took the medical device market by storm.
Over the years, it became somewhat customary for employees old and new to question whether their solution or idea was good enough to satisfy Mr. Hardy.
Here are three ways Mr. Hardy practiced leadership at his lower level position and showed others how to become powerful leaders:
- Striving for excellence. Although Mr. Hardy didn’t have the qualifications or skills to make it high up the ranks, what he did have was the ability to bring out the best in others who possessed those skills. He got highly skilled staff to constantly ask themselves if they could do something better.
- Giving a gentle reminder. With so many distractions in the workplace today, it can be easy to drift from the company’s mission. Sometimes it’s important to be reminded of what role you play, and how you too can become a powerful leader—not only in your job, but in the way your work helps humanity at large. This can be motivating enough to keep you excelling at any level.
- Changing the company culture. The motivation that you get from your paycheck and perks can only take you so far. For your career to truly become a calling, you have to believe in what you do. Mr. Hardy helped instill an important ingredient his company was missing—passion. Collective passion was powerful enough to lead Mr. Hardy’s company to greatness.
You don’t need a title to be a powerful leader—all you need is courage. Good leaders can be found at any level of a company. Mr. Hardy’s need to drive corporate change for the good was so genuine that it was contagious.
Talkback: Have you done something extraordinary to stand out as a leader in your company? Have you practiced leadership regardless of your position? We’d love to hear your story.
“Accomplishing the impossible means only that the boss will add it to your regular duties.”
~ Doug Larson ~
David Asks: I have a manager who is always getting on everyone’s case over everything. He has even yelled at employees in front of customers. How do I deal with this situation, other than trying to stay out of his way?
Joel Answers: There is a wide variety in leadership styles between different bosses or even companies, but it is never appropriate for a manager to publicly humiliate an employee. It’s hard to enjoy your work when you’re worried about setting your boss off on a rampage. Here are some things you can do to improve your situation at work:
- Build relationships with other managers within the company. Start preparing for a lateral—or even vertical—move within the company. Work on making yourself well-known outside of your department so that you will be more likely to be considered when a position opens up elsewhere in the company.
- Remember that your boss is human. If your boss’s recent behavior is uncharacteristic of how he normally acts, consider the possibility that he may be going through something personally that is beyond his capability to deal with at the moment. Try to be understanding and express empathy in a nonthreatening way. For example, you might say, “You seem a little stressed out today. Is there anything I can do to help?”
- Stand up for yourself calmly but firmly. Just because your boss is a jerk doesn’t mean you have to let him get away with inappropriate behavior. If you feel you have been wrongly reprimanded, calmly but firmly explain why you acted the way you did.
- Report your boss. Complaining about your boss’s bad behavior to human resources is always an option, but tread carefully. It could make your life at the company more difficult. However, even if it does, your complaint will go on record and make it easier for the next person who has the courage to speak up.
If the situation doesn’t improve and you are unable to transfer to another department, you may want to consider looking for employment elsewhere. Remaining in a hostile work environment with a bad boss adds stress to your life that can detract from your overall happiness and fulfillment, not just with your career, but in other areas as well. You can eliminate that stress by finding a more satisfying position.
Are you struggling to get ahead at work? Garfinkle Executive Coaching can help you develop strong executive presence, get the attention you deserve for your work, and get the promotion you’ve always dreamed of.
Talkback: Have you ever had a bad experience with a boss? Tell us about it in the comments! Or ask a question you’d like Joel to answer in a future column.
Jim Friedberg managed a team of five and was in charge of a new upcoming product launch for his company. One of his team members came up with a creative, out of the box idea for marketing the product, a new concept that was bordering on the side of risky. Jim was skeptical. A high-risk initiative he had led in the past had failed and cost the organization thousands of dollars.
Jim, however, had built relationships with senior management and they trusted his abilities and asked him to lead the team to market the new product the company was banking on. Although experience and intuition told Jim that the idea had massive potential, Jim questioned the new concept and was fearful that an unsuccessful product launch would not only take the company down the road for another disaster at his hands but could also cost him his reputation and his job.
Undecided about how to proceed, Jim consulted with a trusted senior colleague who simply told him to follow his gut and trust himself. Following in-depth brainstorming sessions with his team, Jim decided to go through with the innovative idea even though it carried a high degree of risk.
Jim trusted the capabilities of his team to follow through and run with the idea. He empowered them to take initiative, encouraged open communication, and motivated employees to get the job done. The marketing campaign led by Jim and his team ran viral on all the major social media networks and went on to generate half a million dollars in sales. Jim received considerable praise from senior executives—not to mention a sizable bonus. He also recommended high-performing members of his team who went on to receive promotions.
Jim now heads the marketing department for his company and writes a weekly column for an up-and-coming marketing magazine.
What can you learn from Jim’s story?
Jim’s story is a perfect example of how managers will shine when employees are doing great. A manager’s success truly lies in the success of their team.
If you’re ready to move up to the next level in your career, consider an executive coaching program to help you learn how to empower your star employees and let them shine.
Talkback: Do you trust your team and give them the creative freedom to run with an idea? Or are you curbing your team’s growth by being afraid to step out of your comfort zone? Share your stories below.
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