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When Current Leadership Isn’t Enough

What do you do when you look around and discover your workplace has some leadership problems because people are not working up to their full potential?

First, give yourself credit for paying attention. You are probably correct. A January 2014 study yielded that 70% of American workers are not engaged by their current job, and 31% of workers are actively looking for a new job.

As a result, the people at work:

  • Aren’t listening.
  • Aren’t paying attention.
  • Aren’t focused.
  • Are late on deadlines.
  • Are over budget on projects.
  • Are job hunting and online shopping at work.
  • Are not putting YOUR projects at the top of their priority list.
  • Are not paying attention to you or your vision, goals, and priorities because they are trying to be somewhere else, and at least mentally, they are succeeding.

Why? Is it leadership? Maybe. But it could also be financial.

US Census data shows that 28% of Americans are actually making less money (nominally, that means in terms of the dollar amount) than they did 5 years ago. How is this possible?

The average person with a BS or BA degree in 2009 made about $49,230. In 2013, that number dropped to just over $42,000. Many of those people are being paid for fewer hours as corporations try to manage their workforce salaries, and that means workers are making less. Meanwhile, inflation has increased, so your workers simply have less money for things they need.

No wonder.

What do you do?

You can install firewalls that prevent people from being able to shop and job-hunt online at work, but this only lets them know you are spying on them, and then they’ll interrupt work to complain about that.

You have to do better than ever as a leader and manager. How?

First, coalesce your leadership team. Discuss the issue in a non-emotional, factual way. Focus on fixing the problem, not assigning blame. When your team understands that you have identified an area to fix, they are more likely to look for solutions. Mid-level managers might also realize that having disengaged employees is a warning sign that something is wrong.

Second, get the entire team together and clarify the issue. Let them know that you identify/see a problem and ask them for ideas on how to solve it. Don’t be surprised when you are initially met with disgruntled silence. Be persistent and ask follow-up questions. Turn details over to direct supervisors.

Third, kill the moat dragons. Okay, don’t hurt anyone, but DO give people the encouragement and the ability to communicate great ideas.

One of the inefficiencies I see over and over is when well-intentioned executives ask for input and that information doesn’t reach the top. Why not? Many senior executives have staff or core people who serve as “handlers.” Their job is to facilitate their boss’s effectiveness and keep them on schedule, get them to the right meeting etc. But the handlers also serve as moat dragons. They are the keepers of the access to and information flow to their boss. Most executives surround themselves with staff, whose prime job it seems, is to shield their bosses from any information that is too honest, too direct, or might be upsetting.

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