As companies struggle to succeed in an increasingly competitive business environment, CEOs and human resources managers work overtime to identify every possible obstacle to growth and profitability. They look at marketing strategies, customer service, product quality — and more. Too often, however, they fail to look at the one component of business success which affects their odds of success more than any other: themselves.
THE MOST INTRACTABLE PROBLEM FOR BUSINESS: LEADERS WHO FAIL TO LEAD
Middle managers and direct reports who want to succeed — and want the companies for which they work to outperform the competition — naturally look for direction from above. More important, they want and expect leaders to motivate them, acting as role models who inspire positive change. As Bill Nottingham notes in “The 'frozen middle' of leadership can be thawed, enabling creativity to flow:”
“‘Frozen middle’ is a dismissive and frankly unfair term for middle managers who supposedly block progress because they’re too cautious to take risks. The phenomenon is real; lots of companies struggle with resistance to change. But it is leaders who have the most influence over whether middle management operates more like a glacier or a river.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS INSPIRING LEADERSHIP?
Simply stated, a leader who inspires his or her staff can mean the difference between failure and success, this according to a robust analysis from Forbes. It’s also the number one predictor of employee engagement. In that study, “uninspiring leaders” were defined as those who were rated in the bottom 10th percentile by peers, direct reports and managers on their ability to inspire and motivate.
The study concluded that leaders who don’t possess the skills to effectively inspire their direct reports (or don’t especially care about them) negatively impact business productivity and effectiveness, not to mention employee engagement and retention. Consider for example the following metrics associated with uninspiring leadership:
- Less than 3% of such leaders were “highly engaged”
- The average engagement of their direct reports was 23%
- Almost half of their direct reports were actively considering quitting their jobs
- The probability of their being a “high potential leader” was just 3%
- The probability of their companies being in the bottom 10% of similar businesses on productivity was 93%
HOW TO TRANSFORM YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE: LEARNING TO INSPIRE
Every business is different (as is every leader), with different needs and challenges. That said, there are best practice strategies and lessons which every leader can leverage to improve his or her leadership style, becoming more effective and more inspiring, including the following 3:
1. Hire the Right People
That’s perhaps more a truism than a strategy. At its base, however, it means incorporating soft skills like collaboration and creativity into the hiring process in addition to hard ones like possessing the skills to do the job.
Hiring creative people rather than those who are a “good fit” for company culture is critically important because such workers are more likely to be innovative and help leadership transform the companies for which they work. That’s the assessment of Nolan Bushnell (founder of both Atari and Chuck-E-Cheese) in “Finding the Next Steve Jobs,” the book in which he calls creativity the most valuable resource in any company.
It’s also important to hire workers with a collaborative spirit. For one thing, collaborative employees are more likely to be open to new ideas and therefore more likely to help leaders inspire others to challenge the status quo. For another, workers with a collaborative spirit will value results over self-aggrandizement and be willing to accept other points of view and opinions to achieve those results, increasing productivity and profitability for your business. Said differently, hiring collaborative people leads to effective teams. As Patty McCord points out, the job of management isn’t to control people — it’s to build great teams.
2. Be a Strong Communicator — but Don’t Solve Every Problem Yourself
There’s a thin line between providing proactive direction and becoming the go-to person for every problem that comes up. For example, the best leaders are skilled communicators, and they understand that the best communication is personal and face-to-face. That means limiting communication through emails and memos and front loading a regular schedule of one-on-one and small group meetings. It’s in those personal settings that the best ideas are generated, and it’s in such meetings that empathy, trust and engagement grow.
At the same time, however, even strong leaders can fall into the trap of becoming the “problem-solver-in-chief.” Being an effective communicator shouldn’t mean an open-door policy. The good feeling you get when you’re always the one to come up with innovative solutions might come at a heavy price, in other words: direct reports and managers, accustomed to getting all the answers from you, are less likely to do the work necessary to find those answers for themselves. That can mean diminished motivation and engagement, both of which will hurt your business over the long haul.
3. Delegate, then Delegate Some More
The best leaders are active listeners. They understand that their point of view is one among many and, based on that understanding, listen to their direct reports. As the Association for Talent Development notes, listening is in fact the “secret weapon” of good leaders because it demonstrates that you value your employees, increasing both engagement and job satisfaction.
Of course, listening doesn’t mean a great deal if the employees to whom you listen don’t have any power. Think of the trust-killing scenario in which you tell one of your direct reports, “that’s a great idea,” then do precisely what you planned to do before the conversation began. In other words, to inspire your employees, you need to do more than listen to them — you also need to let them make decisions.
Effectively delegating authority and decision making is critical to the success of your leadership — and of your business. It allows you to focus more time and attention on the most important decisions which need to be made, and it tells your employees that you consider them valuable resources in the achievement of key business objectives. If you’re not sure that you’re effectively delegating, look for the tell-tale warning signs of the “work hoarder” leadership style, things like working excessively long hours and considering yourself totally indispensable.
LEADING BY INFLUENCE
As Brigette Hyacinth (an international expert on effective leadership styles) points out, great leadership is characterized by influence, not authority. The most successful leaders are those who effectively inspire, motivate and influence their workers. That begins during the hiring process: finding and employing creative workers who want to collaborate with their colleagues. It continues after they’re hired, demonstrating that you see them less as tools and more as vital resources whose ideas and talents will help your business grow and thrive.
Platinum Group is a full service human capital management (HCM) resource that allows businesses to manage their payroll, benefits compliance, track time and attendance and other various human resources functions in a way that maximizes efficiency and eliminates redundancies with the platform, iSolved. For more information about Platinum Group or to schedule a demo of iSolved please visit our website.