Joe just got notice for the third time in less than a month that another employee was quitting. He felt frustrated that he’d be hiring again. Later, he had to have a performance conversation with Sally, who was lagging in meeting her sales quotas. Yesterday, Joan and Frank had a heated argument in the staff room and people who heard it were visibly upset. He wondered if he was going to have to hire someone to assist with conflict management. On the last financial statement he’d received from Jack, he’d found several significant errors, which was completely out of character for him. Joe couldn’t deny that the team dynamics at his company had taken a downward turn in the last year. People were leaving faster than he could hire them and the atmosphere around the office was caustic. Joe felt like he spent his days dealing with people issues instead of running a business and in spite of his best efforts, he was not making headway.

Unfortunately, Joe’s story is not unlike that of many small business owners who find HR issues frustrating and time-consuming. Business owners, often untrained in people management, can feel a lack of confidence that leaves them guessing as to the best way to lead their teams. Time pressures may lead to short-cuts or circumventing the long-run of relationship building to expedite business requirements, resulting in something akin to Joe’s experience. They know how to run their business operations, but are unclear as to what constitutes good team leadership. They may think they are demonstrating strong leadership but are unaware of how their actions impact their teams.

Evidence of Good Leadership  

Strong leadership brings about a corporate culture that feels natural and authentic, not forced. Leaders are open and communicate their vision in a way that everyone on the team understands it and has a strong connection to how they fit in to the big picture and feel their contribution is valued. Good leadership provides growth opportunities to people according to their strengths, acknowledging what they have contributed to the company. Employees see that helping their coworkers to succeed helps them get ahead. Corporate values are visible and alive within the organization. People are engaged, happy, collaborative and love coming to work.

Evidence of Bad Leadership  

Bad leadership brings about a corporate culture that is apathetic at best and toxic at worst. Talk from leaders is meaningless because what they hear and what they see are not aligned. Communication with employees is poor, resulting in rumours, back-stabbing and a lack of trust. Employees have no idea how they fit into the big picture or how important they are in making it happen. Growth opportunities are rare and corporate values are invisible. Employees are jaded, have no loyalty to each other or the organization, and bring frustration, negativity, and apathy to work every day.

Joe may not realize that his frustration with the constant turnover is causing him to be negative and short with his staff. He’s clear on his values and communicates them regularly, but when he’s under the gun, he may not always “walk the talk”. Ignoring conflicts has led to flare-ups within the team and poor performance on many levels. Lack of attention to a struggling employee has resulted in potentially costly errors from someone he can usually count on. He knows he’s in over his head but can’t afford to hire someone to take on the HR. It all feels like too much.

While it’s not easy, in time good leadership can turn a challenged culture where HR issues abound into a strong, dynamic one where the team works together for a common goal. This is good news for Joe or anyone in a business leadership role. It takes effort, commitment and persistence, but it can be done.

Top Four Leadership Skills  

  1. Authenticity – leading by example  

There is no substitute for authenticity – consistently demonstrating your values and being an example. I once worked for a company whose owner who was very verbal about the company’s values. They were posted around the office and employees were expected to be able to recite them on demand. Sadly, when it came to her interactions with employees, these values were far from evident. “Mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth” was a company value. Yet, when someone made a mistake, she was angry and punitive. “Respect for everyone’s perspective” was another, but if someone’s ideas differed from hers, she would humiliate and belittle them. This left people fearful of trying new things, disillusioned and unmotivated.

Good leadership is focused on building honest relationships with employees and creating a foundation to guide their actions and behaviours. Authentic leaders are positive, truthful, open and supportive. They don’t cover up mistakes or blame others and genuinely care for their employees.

If Joe was honest with the team about some of the areas where they were struggling to meet expectations – including where he had fallen short – he might be surprised to find them on board with making those improvements. Dealing with issues head on instead of ignoring them would help him stay on top of the team’s performance and let them know he can be trusted to create a safe and positive workplace.

2. Communication – inspiring passion  

If you communicate your enthusiasm for and belief in your vision, your team will follow with the same energy and work toward helping you reach your goals. When people are connected to the vision and understand how important their role is in making things happen, they are energized and committed. The more you connect them with the big picture, the stronger their buy-in and cooperation. Here’s an example of how a company might communicate and  inspire passion regarding an impending change.

“Our vision is to be the most innovative productivity software company in the world. Because we are committed to this vision we need to make some major adjustments to our product offerings in the next 12 months. This means you’re going to see some changes and an increase in productivity expectations, but we’ll work together to make sure everyone is supported. We have every confidence we can improve our products and services together!”

Imagine how differently employees might have responded if what they heard was “We need to increase our productivity in the next 12 months while we implement some major changes. We expect all of you to work hard to meet these goals.” They would likely have responded with fear, anxiety, incorrect assumptions and resistance, resulting in slowdowns, sagging productivity, low morale and a failed project.

If Joe was able to reconnect his team with a passionate vision for his company, he might find them inspired to contribute with enthusiasm because they feel they are important – even necessary – to fulfilling that purpose. United towards a positive cause, some of the HR problem areas may resolve themselves.

3. People building – empowering the team  

A great culture requires a great team, and a great team requires a great leader. According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company of 189,000 employees, being supportive was the number one of four behaviors that accounted for 89 percent of leadership effectiveness. Good leaders focus on supporting and developing their teams, capitalizing on employee strengths and helping them contribute to the organization where they are at their best. When people feel they are valued and important, they will be motivated to do well.

By committing to some one-on-one time with his team members to talk about their development goals and supporting them in their job roles, Joe could see a change in productivity and morale that would actually save him time as his team focuses on positively moving forward instead of complaining and fighting with one another.

4. Reaching out – knowing when you need help 

While growing these leadership skills will help you gain credibility with your team and stabilize some of the negative behaviours creating problems in your organization, there may come a time when you recognize what you are facing is beyond your expertise. Bringing in some HR help from time to time could take off the pressure you feel when you’re out of your depth, and doing so could actually save you time, money and reduce your stress.

Joe could hire an HR consultant to assist him with improving his hiring processes, as well as gain an understanding as to why his turnover is so high. The money he spends for the knowledge and tools in this area will more than compensate for the time and money he spends by not doing it well.

As you grow your authenticity, communication and commitment to supporting your team, you will find yourself influencing and positively impacting their lives. When they feel valued, supported and inspired, you’ll notice a marked change in their contribution, and your business success.