Workers Leave Bad Bosses!

As an executive coach, I am frequently reminded that people leave bad bosses (not bad companies). I am frequently privy to the real story behind why talented people exit. In my experience, it’s not typically about the commute, the pay, the company or the work. More often, its because the employee just couldn’t stand to continue working under their current boss.

What makes for a bad boss? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but my top ten list would include any of the following:

  1. Fails to give credit where it is due or plays favorites
  2. Fails to either promote/support direct reports with higher ups (doesn’t have the team’s backs)
  3. Fails to offer structure, direction and “order” for the team (clarifying expectations or what success looks like with work tasks)
  4. Decision making averse or wishy washy (often combined with #3 above)
  5. Fails to demonstrate a caring heart, sensitivity, compassion and attitude (no positive feedback, encouragement etc)
  6. Reacts negatively to critical feedback or bad news (i.e. retaliates, gets defensive, blaming or withdrawn)
  7. Rules with an iron fist (i.e. punitive, demeaning, condescending, passive aggressive or back biting)
  8. Micromanages (i.e. looking over shoulders, “control freak”, nit picks, can’t delegate)
  9. Isn’t open to influence
  10. Doesn’t support/coach or help direct reports advance, improve or develop

Here are this week’s coaching tips towards improving if you are a boss:

  • Demonstrate warmth with a smile or kind word. Greet your people like you are glad to see them in the morning! Offer them something to drink when they come to your office. Simply put-the golden rule.
  • Don’t be stingy with credit! Be generous with praise, recognition, Atta boys and thank you’s. The research is clear on this- humans are motivated by recognition and appreciation. Pay attention to what your people are doing well and let them know that a) you notice and b) appreciate. Good behavior unnoticed may not be continued.
  • Deliver constructive feedback regularly –not just once a year during a performance review! Accurately describe and communicate what behaviors you want continued and those you want changed or extinguished. It’s your job to make expectations clear for your employees.
  • Choose your words carefully. Loaded words that sting with sarcasm (always a double message) should be avoided. One word or action from a boss has the potential to make or break an employee’s day—this is particularly so with young or new employees. They are often starving for positive recognition and many are anxious to know how you are judging their work.
  • Noticing your team has a bad attitude? Look first to see that their attitude isn’t merely a reflection of yours. Boss moodiness is catchy and perpetual boss negativity can be deadly to morale. How you respond to a problem is a choice. Challenge yourself to deliver messages in a way that inspires vs. deflates. The most admired bosses inspire unity and loyalty with hope, optimism and workable solutions. Leaders have tremendous influence on the emotional fields of workplaces and their people. Positive emotions and words from a boss are fuel to increase morale and performance. Generosity of spirit, support and acknowledgement is also catchy. When people see the boss modeling it, they follow suit. Which would you rather have perpetuated in your workplace?
  • Be mindful about how you respond to someone bringing you bad news or critical/challenging feedback. People aren’t likely to be truth tellers a second time if they got shot down the first time. Make it safe for your people to communicate their concerns to you.
  • Earn respect and trust with these fundamentals: be transparent (explain decision making), acknowledge your own limitations (its ok to say “I don’t know the answer”), be authentic, don’t play favorites, get input from your people and maybe most importantly model the behavior you want from your people.

In my experience, most of those perceived as being a “bad” boss aren’t intentional about treating people poorly. More often it’s a lack of awareness coupled with a need for management/leadership skill development (often in the emotional intelligence arena). The good news is these are learnable skills (I teach/coach them daily).

Companies pay a high price when they lose talent under those who lack leadership skill. Bringing in a professional coach to help an otherwise valued manager learn better boss behaviors can be a solid business investment.

Employee Engagement

Figuring out how to motivate employees is no easy challenge. Business has typically equated motivation with money (the carrot and stick approach), and it seems this formula is wrong!

Take a look at Dan Pink’s popular 18 minute internet video from the TED conference in Oxford. His science of motivation makes a case for how business has it all wrong when it comes to incentives. I found it fascinating, intuitive and congruent with what I have experienced for many years as an executive coach. What really motivates talented, smart workers are factors including autonomy, mastery, and purpose (not more money). Pink cites over four decades of scientific studies enlightening us that the carrot and stick approach can actually significantly reduce the ability of workers to produce creative solutions to problems. His formula for work satisfaction and motivation is to connect our human need to direct our lives, to learn and create and to improve our world and ourselves.

What motivates us (once our basic survival needs are met) is the ability to grow and realize our fullest potential. Wise leaders create workplace environments and cultures that support autonomy, creativity and bringing the best of their human talent to meet company goals. Google reports that 50% of their successful products originate from employee’s 20% “innovation time”—Google employees devote 20% of their work time (one day), creatively innovating on projects of their choosing.

Additionally, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi helps us comprehend motivation with his human state of “flow” theory. Flow is a human state of high engagement and satisfaction that occurs when we bring the best of ourselves forward to meet a challenging task or goal. If an employee has a high degree of skill and ability to do something with low challenge, they are typically apathetic or bored. Conversely, if an employee is given a highly challenging task or role with little skill, ability or talent to succeed-they will likely be in a state of anxiety, worry or stress. Neither is conducive to performance.

Flow is what happens when we have a high degree of challenge (with a clear goal) while we also have a high capability of skills, experience and talent to succeed with that goal. Akin to an athlete being in the “zone”, being in flow requires three conditions: 1) an activity with a clear set of goals, 2) the confidence that one is capable of doing the task at hand and 3) clear and immediate feedback.

Given all this theory, here are my coaching tips for how to motivate your employees:

  • Provide your people clear goals and expectations. Identify what success looks like. Make sure that before assigning tasks and roles that you are reasonably confident the individual has both the competence and the commitment to succeed. Then keep providing ongoing clear feedback. Feedback should be specific to behavior not the person or their intentions.
  • Identify your employee’s natural gifts and talents. For the price of a book, you can utilize the Strength finder 2.0 assessment. This easy to use and inexpensive internet based tool can help participants identify their top 5 strengths. Also, ask your employees how they think they can bring their best potential to the needs of the business?
  • Give people a sense of purpose. Identify and communicate how their job matters to larger organizational or business goals. People want to be a part of something that is bigger than they are. Help them identify their sense of “purpose” with the work they do.
  • Delegate more and give competent committed workers autonomy. People want to have control over their work. I have never met a client who enjoyed being micromanaged! When I hear talent looking for an exit strategy, its often due to their feeling they have no autonomy in the job or their talents and strengths are being underutilized
  • Offer employees continuing educational training opportunities. Mastery motivates! People want to get better at what they do. And the good news is once they do, they will perform at a higher level for your business. It’s a win win.
  • Praise and promote. Say thank you, recognize good work and catch people doing something well. Promote from within. Its sound strategy. Dedicated employees who have already proved their value deserve more autonomy and having a culture of promoting from within motivates other employees.

Increasing Employee Engagement

I am concerned about the lack of engagement that I perceive from many of my clients who work for mid to large sized organizations (by the way non profits aren’t immune). From my vantage, it seems that a disturbing large number of workers these days feel “trapped” by this recession and are desperately looking for an “exit” strategy.

Few organizations can afford a mass exodus of talent. Yet here is a brief list of common complaints I hear daily as a coach: resentment about being micromanaged by a “toxic” boss, feeling under-appreciated and/or undervalued, weighted down by too much work, too few resources, a lack of autonomy and a mountain of processes/minutia that suck the life out of them!

Employee engagement matters greatly to performance and organizational success. One study by the Corporate Leadership Council found an increase in employee engagement can generate an increase of 20% in performance and an 87% reduction in employees’ probability of departure. The same study looked at the top drivers to employee engagement and determined the most important is a connection between the employees’ job and organizational strategy and an understanding (by the employee) of how important their job is to organizational success. Other top drivers were manager characteristics (as well as cultural traits) chiefly, good internal communication, a reputation of integrity, and a culture of innovation.

Most workers leave bad bosses not “bad” companies. Workers who like their boss and who feel their boss cares about them are more productive and less likely to fly the coop. We go the extra mile for bosses who we feel appreciate us and demonstrate respect for us.

My coach’s tips for increasing employee engagement:

  • Conduct an employee survey. Take the temperature of the organization and determine how they feel about morale, culture and management. Get input about what they would change. One suggested survey resource– the Gallup 12 question engagement survey.
  • Assess the strengths and career aspirations of your people. Ask them what they do best—what are they doing when they are in the “zone” or in flow. Find out how they think they can best contribute to the team or business. Help design their day-to-day work to maximize their potential to deliver their best.
  • Assess whether or not your processes/systems are helping or hindering your people’s success and performance. Ask them what they would change and how they would change it. Often manager’s get too far from the action to know what is working or not from the vantage of those on the front lines. Ask them!
  • Delegate and “coach” vs. micromanage. No one likes having someone look over his or her shoulder all day! Talented, committed people want (and deserve) autonomy and decision making authority. If they aren’t growing, improving and allowed to captain some of their own ship, odds are they will bail as soon as they have an opportunity.
  • Appreciate and recognize your people when they deliver for you. Reinforce what you want done again. Call them, send an email or better yet, go shake their hand, look them in the eye and say thank you. Sadly, most American workers report very low levels of workplace recognition (one Gallup survey reported 60% of workers saying they receive no praise or recognition in their workplaces!) If the only time your workers hear from you is when they do something wrong—you qualify as a bad boss.
  • Set clear goals and expectations. Define what success looks like when delegating projects.
  • Give and receive constructive specific feedback. Offer helpful feedback regularly. Most people want to know how they are doing and if they are behaving in a way that is problematic for the business or coworkers. This gives them an opportunity to change and improve. In turn, bosses need to go out of their way to create safe conditions for their people to give them reciprocal feedback (this means the boss should NOT get reactive or defensive when they do!). Ask your people what they want more of or less of from you.
  • Involve your people in creating a culture of innovation. Facilitate brain storming sessions and opportunities for them to contribute to improved ways of delivering for customers/clients.

Coaching as a Leadership Style

Many organizations today have identified “coaching” as a preferred leadership style for their management workforce. Coaching is a powerful organizational and leadership strategy to systemically improve business performance. One survey from the Institute of Personnel and Development confirms that 9 out of ten U.S. companies expect their managers and supervisors to deliver coaching to their direct reports and teams. Employee surveys support the need for managers to develop coaching skills as “best bosses” are those identified as having a coaching style.

So what is coaching? Coaching is a collaborative partnership centered on achieving goals. The primary objective of coaching is to develop the person being coached. In a nutshell, it is a way of leading that supports, champions, guides and challenges an individual to maximize their potential and performance. Coaching can be applied to a wide variety of management situations—identifying strengths and challenges, motivating, delegating, relationship/team building, providing feedback, resolving every day workplace challenges, helping employees become more self aware and change problematic behaviors or seize opportunities to grow and improve.

There are key differences between the old style autocratic or “boss” way of managing people and coaching. Whereas the old school boss tended to get things done by lecturing, directing and telling, today’s boss who acts as a “coach” asks powerful questions, makes effective requests, listens/observes well, is perceptive and offers constructive effective feedback to help someone learn and develop.

The best leaders in workplaces have learned how to empower and motivate their people vs. try to control them. One reason– today’s younger workforce (comprised of Gen Y/Millenials) is quite different than past generations (vets and baby boomers). They have different expectations of their leaders and workplaces. Generally, to motivate today’s younger worker requires more personal attention, recognition and tolerance on the part of management.

The great challenge for many organizations is how to train their managers to utilize coaching skills. People aren’t born with innate coaching skills and frankly few business schools are focused on teaching the skills required to be an effective coach.

Coaching techniques and competencies are very different than those required of more “old style” management and supervision. As a result, many of today’s older managers are challenged having to “unlearn” past lessons and techniques that are no longer effective in today’s workplace.

Simply asking your managers to “coach” employees won’t equate to success. Learning how to coach is akin to learning a new language. There is an art to coaching. To develop someone’s ability to coach requires an investment in training/coaching to master new behaviors. Developing expertise (as with most skills) will almost always require ongoing feedback and modeling by someone with more advanced skills. One of the best ways to develop coaches is to have the up-and-coming coach be coached by a professional coach with exemplary coaching skills.

Coaching is a relationship centered on helping the “coachee” realize their aspirations and goals. Trust, respect and rapport are critical foundations to a solid coaching relationship. Frankly, some managers have great challenges in the interpersonal and emotional intelligence arena. Though it is possible to learn behaviors that lead to increased trust—this endeavor isn’t easy (the best results typically come when a professional coach who specializes in this arena is brought in).

When leaders are trusted and respected, employees under them will respond to their feedback more effectively. The best coaches are patient, perceptive, self aware, reflective, open, supportive, keen observers and good listeners. They are adept at giving valuable feedback that doesn’t generate defensiveness and are interpersonally effective. They help their employees by uncovering their blind spots and challenging limiting beliefs. Most of effective coaching this takes place through observation, assessment, dialogue, inquiry and conversations.

Tips to develop a coaching style:

  • Listen and observe well. Note how someone learns best (see previous column on learning styles) and what their strengths are.
  • Delegate more and direct less (once you have assessed the employee has the skills required to do the task and has the necessary commitment). Always make clear what the parameters are when delegating (i.e. time, budget and other resources).
  • Use errors as learning opportunities.
  • Help your people learn to solve problems themselves vs. doing it for them.

Lastly, bring in coaching training for your employees.  My own coach training modules is one of my most popular trainings.  Invest in your managers today by calling me:  360 682 5807.

 

Team Leadership Skills

Teams have become critical to workplace success — they are everywhere in business today. Teams offer many advantages, including improved problem-solving capabilities with complex challenges, expanded creativity and synergies resulting in greater overall performance. While the benefits of high-performing workplace teams are well known, leading them effectively remains a tremendous challenge for many managers.

Working in a team environment can bring out the best — and the worst — in people. Individuals often struggle working cooperatively with each other and adapting to the variety of personalities, interpretations, opinions and varying skills of other team members. Many employees may have specific expertise or technical skills but can lack the “people” skills required to be an effective contributor in a team environment. Throw in competing agendas, office politics, limited resources and time pressures, and teams can be a recipe for trouble. It can be enough to make even the most seasoned manager cry out for help.

There is an art to effectively leading teams. It requires a specific skill set and a high level of emotional intelligence. Yet many managers have never been taught the necessary leadership, emotional intelligence, interpersonal and facilitation skills required to successfully lead a team. In a recent survey from the Center for Creative Leadership, marketplace leaders identified the ability to build effective teams and being collaborative as the top skills required for managers to be successful. Alarmingly, this same survey reflected that only 30 percent of respondents believed their leaders were currently skilled collaborators.

Succeeding at leading teams in a way that maximizes the performance potential of the individuals (often with competing interests and different approaches to conflict and problem solving) is a fundamental leadership challenge.

This is one of the reasons that high-performing teams tend to be the exception versus the rule. Successful companies almost always have them, whereas failing companies do not. Many managers are painfully aware that simply throwing a group of people together doesn’t mean they will necessarily jell as a team. Most teams fail to achieve their potential due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • Lack of clarity around team goals and objectives — and accountability to each other to meet those responsibilities (who will do what by when).
  • Ineffective decision-making and/or conflict resolution — either conflict is avoided or dealt with in a way that harms team performance.
  • Lack of trust between members.
  • Lack of emotional intelligence among members.

Facing these kinds of challenges is difficult, though certainly doable with the right help. Typical off-the-shelf team building solutions rarely address the heart of what’s wrong nor give individuals the skills they need (including the team leader) to fare well on their own. They may provide temporary cheerleading relief but rarely address the long-term issues.

Teams need effective leadership to get to a high-performance stage. It’s a team leader’s job to create the conditions for teams to be successful. These include:

  • Establishing structure — clear direction, objectives, decision-making, meeting processes and team member roles.
  • Establishing effective team norms (how we will solve problems, communicate openly, honestly and constructively with each other).
  • Setting a team emotional tone and environment to maximize collaboration and creativity and to ensure the team benefits from the talents of each member.

Team leaders need skills to work with (not against) competing interests, approaches and varying individual motivations. The most effective team leaders balance their time and attention between a) the task demands of the team and b) facilitating team processes (making continuous adjustments) to work better together (enhancing trust and camaraderie).

The best team leaders pay close attention to what is going on interpersonally and emotionally in their teams. They clarify for team members how their behaviors are affecting others (helping them to increase self-awareness) and support them in minimizing unproductive habits that hinder team performance. For example, if Joe has been interrupting Sharon repeatedly during meetings, the leader may note this and remind Joe that the rest of the team might benefit from hearing Sharon’s idea.

If you are a frustrated team leader, it may be time to call in expert help. There are resources to a) grow your skills in leading teams effectively and b) provide facilitation and coaching expertise to lead team sessions more productively and collaboratively.