Herding Cats and Leading Employees

Are you Leading Employees or Herding Cats?

Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one’s superiors; care for one’s crew. – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Talk even casually with managers and leaders in almost any type of organization and they will tell you that the most challenging (interesting word) aspect of their work is dealing with the human resource and people issues on a day to day basis. The actual technical aspects of management are usually seen as much less stressful and easier to learn.

The research evidence is more compelling. In a large survey of executives, it was found that 45% of CEOs thought that their managers needed to develop new leadership skills; while poor communication skills were seen as the number one management problem and poor interpersonal skills was perceived as the number one employee relations problem.

A survey conducted in the USA of over 12000 employees showed that interpersonal skills, listening, empathy, leadership and support were the most valued by employees in a leader.

And in a national survey of employers, again in the USA, the attributes sought by CEOs in their employees were: the ability to learn on the job, listening and oral communication skills, adaptability, personnel management, group and interpersonal effectiveness, and leadership potential.

It is estimated that only 20% of the competencies required of a good manager involve technical competence. The other 80% involved leading people. Finally, it is suggested from case study research that executives who derail tended to be too rigid, had poor relationships, exhibited low self-control, were defensive, and had poor social skills.

So, managing people in their myriad states and situations seems to be the main game for effective leadership and gives some cues as to good leadership development and training.

At the same time, it is critical to recognize some important elements of competency that can be more easily learnt and enable the leader to be prepared for that difficult situation.

We believe it is important for leaders to be up-to-date with the latest developments in industrial relations, recruitment, performance management, and career management, for example. We cannot leave these issues just to the HR department, although they are there to provide expert advice and should be accessed.

On the one hand, our ability to make decisions that are fair, reasonable and in line with policies, procedures and legislative frameworks is critical. For this we rely heavily on logical management thinking.

On the other hand, the communication and relationship skills that we need to manage this very complex area require us to operate in the space of inexactness, ambiguity, and sometimes gut feel – determining what is in the best interest of all involved and trying to support individual team members to be their best.

Broadly speaking, any Talent Management model draws together a range of initiatives related to building teams, capability development and ongoing support of employees; and is based on the notion of shared responsibility between employees, leaders and the organization. Obviously, there is a range of considerations that influence how we manage these various component parts.

As an example, the strategy of the organization will influence the type of individual’s leaders will seek to recruit into a team. Similarly, performance feedback and performance management frameworks will be heavily influenced by legislation. In recent times, organizations have moved to more realistic and effective ways to draw together these different aspects of leadership and capability development into integrated talent management frameworks.

One of the dilemmas for leaders is to cover the whole range of needs of individual team members – particularly in workforces where there is a great deal of diversity of background, culture, age or personal style. The demographics of the workforce have changed dramatically over the past few years and are likely to continue to change into the foreseeable future.

The key changes are aging – as the baby boomers go beyond middle age and constitute a substantial percentage of the population – and the rising multicultural nature of our workforce. For a wide range of sociological reasons, the values and attitudes of so called generation X and Y towards work are quite different from their parents. So, a team these days is likely to be very diverse and consist of people with quite different and sometimes conflicting views.

Some of these views may not necessarily be congruent with the values of the CEO or senior management of the organization. Notice here that we have avoided using the term organizational values. The reason for this is this term can lead us to anthropomorphize organizations in a way that we think is inappropriate. Organizations do not demonstrate values – their people do.

A final concerns culture. The notion of organizational culture is often misunderstood and undervalued by managers and leaders. This becomes particularly evident during periods of change. Teams can easily fall victim to the culture trap and an inability to think beyond the norms and values that the team has set.

It is also interesting to note that national culture will always override organizational culture despite the best efforts of some managers to ignore this important fact. The role of leadership is not for the feint-hearted and requires ongoing learning and leadership development to stay in the game!

By Staff Writer

Leading Employees or Herding Cats

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