Monday, September 5, 2011

Good and Bad Leadership— What Do They Look Like?

Leaders can choose to lead in a good direction or a bad direction. Actually, a full spectrum exists from exceptionally bad to exceptionally good. Every manager will by his or her actions lead in some direction within this spectrum. This direction may not be understood or chosen, but that is irrelevant, because the direction is always the leaders choice, whether or not he/she realizes it.

First, what exactly is leadership of employees in a workplace by a boss?

Leadership applies to people, not things, and denotes the sending of value standard messages which most people then follow and use to conduct their work. Thus we say that they have been "led" in the direction of those standards. IF you looked at a value standards “coin, ” one side would have leadership on it and the other side would have “followership” on it.

An employee experiences leadership through the support or lack thereof provided by management. They need to get their job done. That is why though go to work and how they get paid. The support comes in the form of: training provided; tools, material and parts supplied; discipline and direction given; and procedures, rules, technical advice, documentation, information, etc. communicated.

Leadership happens inexorably every minute of every day because most people are followers. It is not a process the boss can change. The only choice available to a boss/manager is the standard that employees will follow —good, bad, mediocre or somewhere in between. Because of this natural law, "follower-ship" turns out to be a major force in managing people. Those managers who take advantage of it can become extremely effective at managing their human capital by driving high standards in critical value standards.

Most managers are not utilizing this inherent force, but instead are using the top-down command and control technique, the most widely used method to manage people. Top-down concentrates on controlling the workforce through directives such as goals, targets, visions, and orders to achieve organizational success. Focusing on giving direction prevents these managers from doing much of anything else, because it takes so much time to manage those things. In the process of top-down management, employees are treated pretty much like robots — in the “I know better than you” mode and the “shut up and listen” mentality, even if that is not the expressed intent of the boss. Top-down, command and control management rarely if ever means listening to employees and, thusly, ignores every employee's basic need to be heard and to be respected. It also makes top management ignorant of what is really going on in the workplace, which in turn makes their directives misguided at best and irrelevant at worst.

In the top-down model, nobody is really listening to employee ideas, valuing the opinions of subordinates, or giving employees any recognition. The only way that the workforce can deal with managers who treat them in this way is to disengage and ignore the behavior of managers, bosses, executives. In the workplace this is seen as being sullen, uncommunicative; having a poor attitude, low morale or apathy. Have you seen this? Have you used those words as a manager?

During my first 12 years of managing people, I used top-down/command-and-control and was blind to how bad my leadership was. It was not until I started really listening to employees that I began to understand.

So the end result of top-down management is that the boss demeans and disrespects his employees and sends them very negative value standard messages. The standards reflected in this treatment lead employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with the same level of disrespect they received. Top-down also causes a huge amount stress for employees, which turns into poor performance, sick days, mistakes, lack of adherence to rules, and a whole host of other issues you may have seen in the workplace.

This is the road to very poor corporate performance as compared to the results that would be achieved using a better approach. Top-down managers, who give orders and try to motivate their employees without providing a high standard of support, are their own worst enemies because by their actions they lead employees to the very worst performance. (In The Human Side of Enterprise, author Douglas McGregor named this Theory X and named the other extreme Theory Y, but he did not provide the tools to achieve top performance.)

Good Leadership

If you want your employees to operate at a high level of performance, swing to the other end of the spectrum where organizational control is effected through self-control and managers lead toward the highest possible performance. To do this, first get rid of all traces of a top-down approach. Everyone wants to do a good job, but no one wants to be ordered around like a robot who can't think for themselves.

Next, start treating employees with great respect by listening to whatever they want to say whenever they want to say it and by responding in a very respectful manner. Responding respectfully means resolving their complaints and suggestions and answering their questions in a timely manner to their satisfaction as well as yours, but more importantly to theirs. It also means providing them more than enough opportunity to voice their complaints, suggestions and questions. Spend your time making your support reflect the very highest standards of all values by resolving their complaints and suggestions, thus leading them to use the very highest standards in performing their work.

And realize this: the highest quality and most respectful "direction" is the very least direction since no one likes to take orders or really needs them except in emergency situations. Anyone routinely needing extensive orders should not be on your team.

Treating employees with great respect leads employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with great respect. Listening and responding respectfully also inspires them to unleash their full potential of creativity, innovation and productivity on their work giving them great pride in it and causes them to love to come to work.

You will be stunned as I was by the huge amount of creativity, innovation and productivity you have unleashed. Employees will literally love to come to work and stress will almost cease to exist.

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