Dan just received notice that another employee was quitting – the third in less than a month. He was frustrated that he’d be hiring again. Yesterday, Chris and Michelle had a heated argument in the staff room, and people who heard it were visibly upset. He was beginning to wonder if he needed to hire someone to assist with conflict management. Later, he had a performance conversation with Stacy, who was lagging in meeting her sales quotas. On top of all this, the last financial statement he’d received from Jeremy contained several significant errors, which was very unlike him. Dan couldn’t deny that the team dynamics and performance 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 toxic. Dan felt he was spending his days dealing with people issues instead of running his business. In spite of his best efforts, he was not making headway.
Unfortunately, Dan’s story is not unlike 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 related pressures may lead to short-cuts or circumventing relationship building to expedite business requirements, resulting in something similar to Dan’s experience. Being unclear about what constitutes good team leadership can results in being unaware of how your actions impact your team.
Evidence of Good Leadership
Strong leadership brings about a corporate culture that feels natural and authentic, not forced. These leaders are open, and communicate in a way that ensures everyone on the team understands the company vision. They also make sure all team members understand of how they fit in to the big picture, and feel that their contribution is valuable. Good leadership provides growth opportunities according to individual strengths, acknowledging what each team member has contributed to the company. Employees see that helping their coworkers succeed helps them succeed as well. Corporate values are alive and visible within the organization. People are engaged, happy, collaborative and enjoy coming to work.
Evidence of Bad Leadership
Bad leadership results in a culture that is apathetic at best and toxic at worst. Talk from leaders is meaningless because what staff hear and what they see is 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 fatalism to work every day.
Dan 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 Dan 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 of what they stand for. This requires thinking through your values, and how you can apply them in a practical context. If you value learning from mistakes, how can you apply this in your interactions with your staff? If your vision is respect for all perspectives, what steps can you take to build this into your team dynamics? If you do not connect your actions and your values, you run the risk of leaving your team fearful of trying new things, disillusioned, and unmotivated.
Good leadership is focused on building honest relationships with employees and creating a foundation to guide 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 Dan is honest with the team about some of the areas where they struggle to meet expectations including where he had fallen short he might be surprised to find them on board with making 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 achieving it, 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 they heard “We need to increase our productivity in the next 12 months while we implement some major changes.” They might have responded with fear, anxiety, assumptions and resistance resulting in slowdowns, sagging productivity, low morale and a failed project.
If Dan is able to reconnect his team with a passionate vision for his company, he might be surprised to 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% of leadership effectiveness (read more here). 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, Dan just might see a change in productivity and morale that will 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.
Dan 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 the first time.
As you grow your authenticity, communication and commitment to supporting your team, you will find yourself influencing and positively impacting their lives. As they begin to feel valued, supported and inspired, you’ll notice a marked change in their contribution, and in the success of your business.