Do You Fail At Leadership?

Let’s take a break from tech and talent analytics and think about bosses. Good bosses make the news: consider Dan Price, the CEO in Seattle who was so moved by a study on happiness that he took an enormous salary pay cut to raise his employees pay to a live-able wage. Bad behavior makes the news: ESPN just proved that (again.) But bosses who behave badly? We don’t hear enough about them. Why? For one thing, boss-positive evidence tends to be, well, material. The bad stuff tends to be more intangible (unless there’s a chair thrown). And we’re programmed to not recognize it. Why? Four key reasons:

  1. Denial Is Part Of The Culture

If all that stands between ourselves and salary / compensation / benefits is a leader who throws a tantrum every three months or so, we may just opt to put up with it. Given the comparison between years of job security and the occasional sh*tfit, we may decide it’s not so bad.

The root of this lies in the essential nature of work itself: there are times (come on, admit it), when just working itself is denying what we’d rather be doing. Or else there wouldn’t be so many books about finding happiness in the workplace. But we know that kind of unhappiness erodes workplace engagement.

  1. The Brilliance Myth

We’ve all seen cases where myth making came into play: it’s a modern twist of concept of good leadership. We’ve come to accept that leaders are more brilliant and different than the rest of us, and therefore deserve a certain license. Even if they’re regular, toil at the desk types, they are the ones taking on the most risk and strain.

But back in the day when leaders did things like prevent the city from being invaded, that kind of attitude would get everyone killed. Come to think of it, don’t we still consider business a battlefield? We tend to tolerate eccentricity in visionary leaders, but sometimes it’s just plain bad behavior.

  1. Mistaking Emotion For Transparency

Transparency is one of the top factors driving employee engagement. But it’s a misconception that a transparent culture should reveal its stress. It shouldn’t: transparency is a matter of unifying mission, message, brand, and culture, and yes, passion — for innovation and success.

But strong emotions erode respect and trust, even in employees who consider transparency an employer requirement. While strong, but calm guidance allows for human nature, it doesn’t foster it. It fosters creativity, productivity, and inventiveness.

  1. Not Trusting HR

Tony Deblauwe (founder of the consulting firm HR4Change) observesthat employees may not be comfortable going to HR with a boss issue.The HR department is inherently an extension of management, which feeds into the perception that HR is aligned with leadership, not employees.

From fear of deaf ears to fear of reprisal, this is another misconception, and may be the easiest to clear up — and the most important. HR is about managing people in a way that enables them to be their best professional selves. That means managing their emotional well-being as well as nuts and bolts issue such as their compensation. If employees are loathe to confide in HR, that’s going to lead to even faster disengagement and attrition. Given that, keeping the keel nice and even is a matter of good business practice.

Did I say take a break from analytics? Leader’s prerogative: I just changed my mind. Why? Just as analytics have given us infinite variations on employee performance, perhaps we need to start branching into leadership indications as well: call them KLPI’s. The scope of global organizations requires Big Data, but I’d argue that there are ways to measure the boss’s behavior — good or bad or indifferent (which is bad, but I’ll get to that one soon) — and ways to predict its outcomes as well. I’ll leave that one to tech, but there’s no time like the present.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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