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Are Too Many Organisations Over Managed, But Under-Led?

There is huge pressure on business executives to incite their staff to perform at, or very near, their best in the challenging economic climate; but are too many organisations going about it the wrong way? I think so, and many leaders at client organisations tell me so too!

I have supported more than 20,000 existing and emerging leaders and managers across continents on how to maximise leadership and management effectiveness. Many participants on my programmes express their concerns that board level executives are focusing too much on hard-edged, traditional business skills and KPI's, when what they really need is learn how to soften their approach.

It's not just mid to senior level leaders who express this concern - it's board level executives too!

Many of them reluctantly admit that their companies are focusing excessively on statistical analysis of performance and ignore the crucial human element. Their reluctance to share their concern with peers and stakeholders is because such an admission could be used against them to undermine their position and leadership within their organisation. This is understandable if low trust and/or territorial and adversarial relationships are the norm.

Even the most senior leaders privately hold concerns about their survival. And this can be a contributing factor to their excessive focus on results, results, results. They end up paying lip service to promoting honest dialogue, collaboration, building trust and promoting personal and collective ownership of quality and problem solving without translating their big promises onto actions.

Publishing values like honesty, teamwork, trust and service on attention-grabbing, colourful posters around an office is the easy part. Translating the content of these posters into a daily reality within a company is the real challenge, but one which is worth the investment and is potentially very costly to ignore.

Leaders at all levels need to be open to the possibility of altering their preferred leadership approach in some ways to develop a loyal following. This following will be built on mature interpersonal skills, integrity, mutual trust and high ethical standards, rather than simply relying on technical competence and their senior position within a company to get what they want, and force compliance.

Many companies rarely go out of their way to embed these values in the workplace culture however.

My views about the qualities and attributes of a 'good leader' are borne out of research. My company polled more than two thousand employees from both the private and public sector to identify the typical shortcomings of their leaders and managers. The results sent a clear message to bosses to:

  • acknowledge us when we do something well - rather than just reprimanding us when something goes wrong

  • ask us for our ideas on improving effectiveness - we might have some good ideas as we do the job

  • keep the commitments you make to us - don't say one thing and then do the opposite

  • lead by example - if you want us to look after your customers, do the same for us

  • take swift, corrective action with poor performers

  • Do any of the above sound unreasonable to you? All of the above are achievable, but only when the leader, or leadership group decide that they can do it, they will do it, and they will commit to their employees that it will happen.

I often see organisations that are over-managed, but under-led. By that I mean that lots of effort is invested in analysing statistics and productivity, and this is absolutely essential, but little time is devoted to enhancing communication, improving collaboration and nurturing high-trust relationships. All of which can serve to significantly improve company performance and employee engagement.

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