Three Ways to be the Smartest, Most Respected Leader

A 2002 study by Gallup revealed two amazing things about what most employees want in the workplace.  Surprisingly, it’s not about money and it’s not about title.  Instead, it’s pretty simple:  1) to be called by their name, and 2) to be acknowledged.

As a corporate trainer and workplace mediator, these findings intrigued me.  If two simple things like this were the most important to employees, what were managers and leaders doing, or not doing?  What was getting in the way of employees being more productive, being satisfied at work, and growing the bottom line?  In a 2008 study by Consulting Psychologist Press (CPP) called “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses can Harness it to Thrive,” fourteen top reasons for employee dissatisfaction and conflict in the workplace surfaced across nine major countries.  Here are the top six:

  1. Personality clashes/warring egos – 49%
  2. Stress – 34%
  3. Heavy workloads/inadequate resources – 33%
  4. Poor leadership from the top of the organization – 39%
  5. Lack of honesty and openness – 26%
  6. Poor line management – 23%

What does this mean for leaders?  Based on my 20+ years of experience training and mediation workplace issues, I say that employees feel disconnected from their bosses and from each other.  And, people at any level of employment seem to fear confronting difficulties with others, fearing retaliation, job loss, or public humiliation.  People often lack the skills to effectively communicate through difficult situations or don’t feel it’s a safe environment.

TIP #1:  Engage your employees in interactive, fun team-building training for today’s multi-generational workforce.  Actively learn and apply emotional intelligence in the workplace, powerful and persuasive communication skills, and strategies for managing conflict and differences among people.

Leaders often think their employees have the skills to resolve differences, or at least bring them to their attention, but they don’t.  Too often, leaders are viewed as unapproachable (“my way or the highway” kind of thinking), not really interested in them as people, or are not viewed as trustworthy.  And, leaders tend to view soft-skills training as a poor investment.  But not engaging employees in fun activities outside the day-to-day work routine has costly side effects (read on).

When leading training, I do some things at the start of every program to charge up energy, warm up the environment, and to show how easy it is to connect with those around you.  It’s phenomenal to watch the shift in people’s demeanor, how their faces light up when they make a connection, and how much more engaged they are.  It’s what I call “going below the water line” to demonstrate how “the power of connection” can energize an organization.  The excitement and enthusiasm generated in a group of people is infectious.  It sets the tone for the program and allows us to go places where we might not otherwise venture.

TIP #2:  Do your part in knowing your employees, reaching out and engaging them regularly and often.

Putting strategies like this one to work for you helps make connections among your people, makes you seem more approachable, bolsters your credibility and leadership. Why is this so important?  Another study by Gallup in 2008 called “Turning Around Employee Turnover” showed how critical the concept of engagement is to the health and wealth of an organization.  Surprisingly, Gallup found that only 20% of employees are truly engaged.  Another 20% are fully disengaged.  This means a whopping 60% of the workforce is moderately engaged!  The financial impact of engaged vs. disengaged means $450-600 million lost to American businesses annually.  The ability to engage employees is a skill often overlooked or considered unimportant.   If appearing disinterested or self-absorbed, the mood or attitude of the leader is contagious throughout the organization and becomes a model to others on how to behave.  Employees tend to view their leaders as either an ongoing source of inspiration at work or a hassle to be avoided.  Which one are you?

This notion of the mood of a leader as contagious comes from Daniel Goleman’s “Primal leadership:  The hidden driver of great performance,”  This ties into the Gallup study where they found good bosses are aware of this and actively connect with their employees at all levels.

TIP #3:  Commit to your own professional leadership development: communicate effectively, put your emotional intelligence to work, and effectively resolve conflict at the lowest level.  Be sure that you are not implicitly condoning bad bossing behavior among your management team.

As a leader, we owe it to ourselves and our employees to take a good hard look at how we impact others.  We also owe it to all involved to take a good hard look at how engaged the workforce is, how much is the lack of engagement costing us, and what can be done about it.  Here are four key cost factors to look to see if bad bossing is happening at your organization:

1)  flattened or declining profits,

2) high turnover or unanticipated departures of good employees,

3) increased absenteeism at any level of employment, and

4) increased use of health and/or EAP benefits.

So, if this is going on in your organization, it’s time to take action.  You have tremendous influence and impact on others and in ways that impact the financial, emotional and physical health of your organization.  So connect with your employees and see what a difference you can make!

Do this exercise for a quick look at the impact of good bossing vs. bad bossing:

  1. Pull out a sheet of paper and write down on the left side 3-5 words that describe someone you regard as a great boss or leader.
  2. On the right side of the paper, write down 3-5 words that describe the worst boss you’ve ever had.
  3. What do you notice?

If you’re like most people who engage in this little exercise, you’ll see some stark differences with positive, inspiring words on the left and negative, uninspiring (even derogatory) words on the right.  Look at these two lists…where do you fall?  Where do you want to be?  Most of us want to be that inspiring role model but seldom do we realize how we fail to deliver.  Seldom do we admit or care how we impact others as our goal is to simply get the job done (i.e. the sale, the project, or the deadline).  When we don’t care, we tread a thin line of appearing as a bad boss.

Just what is bad bossing?  Bad bossing is someone who lacks awareness or doesn’t care about the impact of his/her behavior on others, how it demotivates not motivates, how it demoralizes not inspires, and how it make employees disengage rather than engage. Unfortunately, as the Gallup poll also reveals, “bad bossing” is growing, not declining.  Which side are you on?

Get your own Manager Makeover and goof-proof your leadership style!

Authored by Dr. Debra Dupree.   

Debra is speaker and author, a business and conflict coach, credentialed mediator, and a licensed psychotherapist.

Debra’s intrigue with the effects of leadership on employee performance led to her doctoral dissertation in 2014 on the “Psychology of Good Bosses versus Bad Bosses:  An Examination of Attachment Orientation, Leadership Styles and the Neuroscience Behind Behavior” as part of her graduation requirements at Ryokan College in Los Angeles.