Transforming Leadership Through Novel Training, Part 2
What is the managerial mindset and can it inform more effective leadership development?
Although they may not do so consciously or maliciously, many managers regard staff members as people whose purpose is to follow directions and get things done as per executive and managerial diktat – bots. That image conforms to MacGregor’s Theory X, which describes the manager who regards employees as shirkers who are in it for the paycheck and seek to avoid doing more than the minimum. The managers conclude that these workers must be controlled and strictly monitored. We all know employees who fit that description. But, how did they get that way?
For rational beings, it is an axiom of the workplace that nobody comes to work to fail. However, many of those eager aspirants often encounter red tape, favoritism, poor communication, insensitive asides, unresolved conflict, and managers who are interested in meeting deadlines and completing the assignments for which they are responsible but largely neglect trying to keep the employees absorbed in the mission and their particular role in it. To be fair, those managers may themselves be overwhelmed, underpaid, and dissatisfied. They may have reached their level of disengagement or burnout. Explicitly or not, they often communicate these emotional burdens to their reports, who tend to take on similar attitudes. 1
Leaders must want to be leaders-the job is too difficult to just breeze by. Unlike the line staff roles that they previously embodied, when they could focus on their own assignments, they are now responsible for the performance of other employees. They must exert extra energy to be self-starters and to also rev their employees’ engines. At the same time, they also have to meet their superiors’ expectations, no small feat. That raises the issue of how leaders are chosen.
Generally, if a worker does a fine job as a line employee, she will be considered for promotion to supervisor or manager. However, we know that other skills are needed to get the job done. Proving oneself as a line employee does not necessarily correlate with having the people skills, administrative and organizational competencies, and political savvy necessary to be a true leader. Moreover, these neophytes have usually not been tested with the obligation to influence other people who have minds of their own. Most leaders are not selected with these new responsibilities in mind; instead, their ability to produce excellent work as line employees remains the benchmark. Hence, if these criteria are not the bases for the choice of a leader, the leadership training that is offered must address this yawning crevasse.
The method of selecting leaders is, however, beyond the scope of this essay. But leadership development is a primary concern of Carpe Diem Associates, and it demands identifying and modifying dysfunctional leadership behaviors – and personalities, if possible – and changing them with alacrity. Too often, organizations tolerate, even endorse, these substantial barriers to employee engagement, to the detriment of the supervisor, the employee, colleagues, consumers and the organization. How can leadership training contribute to the salutary goal of helping organizations develop more effective managers and supervisors?
First, the organizational culture must be assessed. What obstacles exist to the elimination of counterproductive and even pernicious managerial attitudes, statements, actions and decisions? Is the management team made up of people who collaborate and have relationships that permit candid and prompt 360° assessments? Are employee engagement surveys implemented to keep tabs on the changing moods of the workforce? Is there a viable avenue to raise grievances and have them fairly reviewed and cured? Is the employee experience top of mind for managers? Is respect for everyone a top priority? Are employee and consumer safety at the top of the list? How is that demonstrated in real time?
Second, as Peter Drucker opined, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The human factor is often overlooked. That lacuna has resulted in the dearth of actively engaged employees who have little emotional attachment to their work, or their organization, and find that slacking off or leaving on a moment’s notice are socially acceptable behaviors. That inattention to affect extends to leaders who expect employees to hup-two when directions are given or new projects are commenced. It was discussed recently in an opinion piece decrying laying off employees, often en masse, by way of email. One former Google engineer declared, “What a slap in the face.”2 The survivors, witnesses to this impersonal, uncaring treatment, wonder when they will be next. The utter lack of respect makes for tenuous employee confidence and saps creativity and dedication. By contrast, the climate for intrinsic motivation must be created and nurtured, and the role of the individual in the larger picture explicitly transmitted.
Instead, the chief goal of leadership development should be transforming managers and supervisors into the kind of leaders that their reports would follow voluntarily, without the “manager” or “supervisor” label. It calls for intentional influence that is not manipulative but is instead founded on reading what the people are feeling and courageously addressing those concerns. The first step in this process is self-awareness and earnestly wanting to connect with them. “Managing People” offers a methodology to adopt a new mindset, earn trust and transform your relationship with every employee, working to become the leader that others would choose to follow.
Although “Managing People” was conceived and developed before the following quotations were discovered, they represent what Penn State envisioned for its learners and practices in the workshop:
“There is a difference between being a leader and being a boss. Both are based on authority. A boss demands blind obedience; a leader earns his authority through understanding and trust.”
“Leadership is not something that is done to people, like fixing your teeth. Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.”
If leadership training does not teach how to put these values into practice, it is merely perpetuating the countless ineffective programs that have failed to value and enhance employee engagement and commitment.
1The social contagion effect is described in T. Mitra, et. al, “Spread of Employee Engagement in a Large Organizational Network: A Longitudinal Analysis”, 1 Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, Article 81 (Nov. 2017) at https://dl-acm-org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1145%2F3134716
2E. Spiers, “Layoffs by Email Show What Employers Really Think of Their Workers”, (The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2023), at https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/29/opinion/mass-tech-layoffs-email-google.html?searchResultPosition=1