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

Manager leading employees in discussion

Talk even casually with most managers in a leadership role in almost any type of organization. They will tell you that some of them, if not the most challenging aspects of their work, are dealing with human beings on a daily basis. The fundamental technical aspects of management are almost always seen as much less stressful and easier to learn.

The research evidence is more compelling. In an extensive survey of executives, it was found that 45% of CEOs thought that their managers needed to develop new leadership skills. In contrast, poor communication skills were seen as the number one management problem, and poor interpersonal skills were 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 around 20% of the competencies required of great managers 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 various states and situations seems to be the main game for effective leadership and gives some cues for good leadership development and training.

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

We believe it is vital 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 important 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 necessary skills that we will need on a regular basis to manage this complex area require us to operate in the space of inexactness, ambiguity, and sometimes gut feelings—determining what is in the best interest of all involved and supporting 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. Proper Talent Development can make a big difference in bringing out the full potential of your current employer.

As an example, the organization’s strategy will influence the type of individual 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 practical ways to draw these different aspects of leadership and capability development into integrated talent management frameworks.

Poor communication can have negative impacts on even the most productive employees, and this becomes increasingly important with the trend to hire more remote employees. Effective communication helps promote High productivity and better team performance.

Employee Engagement can provide valuable insight and is one of the more important factors during times of crisis. Depending on the different situations, information sharing and allowing individual employees to provide feedback in a meaningful way is one of the best ways to let your employees shine.

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 modern workforce have changed dramatically over the past few years and are likely to continue to change into the foreseeable future.

The fundamental 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 generations 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 entirely 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.

The long-term success of organizations today depends on keeping their top talent engaged in effective ways. Effective leaders make sure their employees have the most up-to-date skill set. More than anything will help develop a positive attitude and happy employees.

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 faint-hearted and requires ongoing learning and leadership development to stay in the game!

At the end of the day, your personal leadership style and work habits play an important role and how work gets done.

By Bryan Greene

Leading Employees or Herding Cats

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