Or are leaders bad all on their own? Among recent blog posts one asked whether employees are setting bosses up for failure by expecting perfection on every issue. Can bosses actually succeed? Why does it seem so many are vilified? What can be done about it? It does sometimes seem as if bosses can never please employees. How much is up to the employee?
These are powerful, important questions that we’re finally beginning to see asked and answered more often. I like this practical answer at Chief Learning Officer magazine online. But it’s important to understand the role employees play and what anyone can do about it.
This came to mind again with a phone call from a colleague wanting to know what makes a good leader and venting about two hours they’d just spent listening to a manager gripe about their CEO in a small company. “The boss is selfish, lazy, uninterested in anyone’s ideas for improvements,” went the complaint, “My great talents aren’t being used; I’m only staying for the money.” Sound familiar? We’re told about half of all employees or more feel this way much of the time.
In varying degrees we hear this everywhere. I’ve quoted Bob Eichinger of Lominger/Korn Ferry before – that only about 18% of managers have the key people skills for leading and developing others, that these skills fall in the lowest 20% of skills among most managers. Yet, to answer my friend’s question about what leadership is, people skills ARE leadership, so the scarcity of them indicates exactly how scarce effective leadership is in organizations. If we could raise that just 10% or 15% across the board, results would skyrocket.
Once a company grows beyond about 25 to 50 employees in size, employees can no longer be simply extensions of the leaders abilities. Until then a really hardworking boss can probably get around and tell each employee exactly what to do and how every day. Above that size the futility of that should be obvious. Employees have to be empowered and entrusted to take initiative and do things the boss hasn’t specifically ordered or blessed, so the leader’s role becomes encouraging, stimulating creativity, coordinating and supporting initiative where it makes sense – a very different job than controlling every activity day by day.
We shouldn’t be vilifying weak leaders as much as asking ourselves how best to improve their skills and help them transition from command and control styles to coaching and developing. Companies, even many of the biggest and best funded, some of whom spend millions on leadership training, are doing a lousy job of this in the main. How else to account for the finding that 82% of leaders lack the most critical skills for their roles. Hopefully the blizzard of articles and books on what it takes to get results with people will start to make a dent in that gap.
More on this in future posts.