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Bad Bosses Are Bad for Business

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

In a well-known Gallup poll of more than 1 million employed U.S. workers, a bad boss is the number 1 reason people quit their jobs. As Gallup said, "People leave managers not companies ... In the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue."

It's also a bottom-line issue. A poorly-led workforce is 50% less productive and 44% less profitable than a well-led workforce.

And finally, it's an emotional issue. As Tim Pflieger, the founder of the Team Leadership Center (TLC) in Door County, Wisconsin, puts it, "We are the only species that elects, selects and appoints leaders who are incapable of leadership, and that wouldn't be so bad, but then we let them hang around ... Geese and wolves wouldn't do that." Yes, we let them hang around and stink up the workplace and depress the workforce.

So that begs the question ... "What do employees want/need from their leaders?" I believe they want/need four things...

1. Direction
Call it vision, purpose, conviction, or direction, people want their leaders to have it. And they want their leaders to lead them SOMEWHERE better than where they are right now.

Before that can happen, however, the leader has to create the vision, communicate the vision, and sell the vision, so everybody understands it and everybody buys into it.

...Provide direction by "walking the talk" And a big part of that process will be the leader's example. A leader can't expect people to listen to his advice and ignore his example. As noted in a book called the "Balancing Act" by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, "The higher you climb up the flagpole, the more others can see your rear end."

If you're going to give people "Direction," if you're going to have a vision that enlists the full and willing cooperation of others, you've got to walk your talk. After all, your employees are constantly watching you to see if you're doing what you're telling them to do. They're watching your "Direction."

One leader thought he had a pretty good way to walk his talk and reinforce the "Direction" he was giving out. So he purchased an expensive coffee mug with a fancy depiction of the vision statement for each employee. It was his way of breathing extra life into the vision or "Direction" he was imparting.

...Provide direction by "talking the walk" What he didn't understand was that you have to do more than walk the talk ... if you're trying to lead a somewhat cynical or demoralized workforce. You also have to talk the talk. You have to explain the intentions behind the "Direction" you're giving. Otherwise, you'll have a workforce that can easily misinterpret your leadership "Direction." They'll read between the lines, inserting meanings you never intended.

That's what happened in the coffee-mug situation. Many of the employees assumed the coffee mugs were a thinly veiled cost-cutting device ... because the new mugs were a full ounce smaller than the older ones. They thought it must be an underhanded attempt to get people to drink less coffee.

In another situation, one executive had a vision of greater work-life balance for his workforce, and in his "Direction," he urged his employees to balance their personal and professional lives, rather than sacrifice their family relationships for their work. And to lead the way, he decided to take a month off and travel to China with his 19-year old son, who was about to leave the nest.

When the word got out that he was taking the vacation, several employees thought the executive was looking for other jobs. Others said he was distancing himself from problems that would hit while he was gone, and others interpreted the action in even worse ways.

When the executive caught wind of the rumors, he decided it was time to talk the walk. At the next all-employee meeting, he talked about the fact he hadn't taken a vacation in 10 years and the price he paid for that. He talked about how he sacrificed his family for his job. He spoke personally about his relationship with his son and their 10-year dream of going to China. He talked about the value of work-life balance. And then his people understood.

He followed up his trip by encouraging others to get more balance in their own lives. He supported people who needed to leave a meeting a little early to attend their kids' soccer game or attend a family reunion. He walked his talk and he talked the talk.

When you do that, you give your employees the first thing they want and need from their leader. You give them "Direction" ... "Direction" they can understand, accept, and follow.

2. Trust
It's the second thing employees want from their leaders. They want their leaders to be "trustworthy." But what does that mean?

...Being worthy of trust
First of all, trustworthiness has to do with integrity. As stated in the "Army Leadership Values," integrity is doing what is right legally and morally.

Trustworthiness also has to do with courage. As the "Army Leadership Values" go on to say, you need to have "Personal courage -- to face fear, danger, or adversity." Or as Rudolph Giuliani states in his "Six Principles of Leadership," you must "Have courage. This is not the absence of fear. It is the management of fear, of having fear and making the right decision anyway."

And finally, trustworthiness has to do with candor. Gut-honest candor. Giuliani advises, "Communicate honestly and directly to your people."

...Giving respect to others
So employees want their leaders to be trustworthy, but they also want their leaders to trust or respect them. It's the flip side of the same issue. And sometimes leaders inadvertently disrespect their people and wonder why there's so much tension and dissension in the workforce.

Roger Chavalier talked about that in "A Manager's Guide To Improving Workplace Performance." He talked about a Coast Guard officer who was leading a group of trainers. He was impressed by the group's self-discipline. They were all there and already at work when he arrived at 7:30 each morning. To honor their dedication, he began arriving at 7:15, when they did. Pretty soon, however, his trainers were arriving at 7:00. The reason? Their goal was to arrive a respectful 15 minutes before the boss.

Spurred by the desire to be #1, the officer began arriving earlier and earlier until he was getting there at 6:30. At this point, his group had had enough and started showing up at 7:30, at the last possible moment. After they all met and talked this out, the leader learned his lesson: Respect respect.

3. Hope
It's easy to say we're going through tough times right now, but the truth is ... we're always going to have tough times. And that's why employees want their leaders to provide this third element ... hope.

...Starts with optimism
Employees want a leader who believes a better future is possible. Employees want a leader that ignites their optimism. And people are inspired when they hear their leaders say something like Christopher Reeve did after he was paralyzed. He said, "This appears limiting, but let's see what can be done."

That's exactly the way Giuliani handled the devastating attack of 9/11 on New York City. In his memoirs he wrote, "Be an optimist. People do not follow pessimists. They follow people who solve problems and have hope."

...Continues with action plans
But hope is more than nice, rah-rah motivational talk. It's also fueled by clear step-by-step actions. As Morten T. Hansen wrote about a Yale University study in "Collaboration," a group of students was given information on the tetanus disease, along with pictures of convulsing patients suffering from it. The students were then asked if they thought it was important to get a vaccination to prevent this disease.

Most everyone in the group said "yes." Then a portion of those students were given a map to a medical clinic where the vaccine was being administered. They were asked to review their schedules and find a convenient time to get the vaccination.

When the researchers tracked the number of students who actually got the vaccine, only 3% of those who saw the pictures and said "yes" to getting the vaccine went to the clinic. But 28% of the students who received the map to the clinic got the vaccination.

The researchers concluded that giving people hope was not enough. They had to do more than indicate there was a vaccine out there that would prevent tetanus. They had to outline the step-by-step actions ... or the detailed map that had to be followed ... before there was much in the way of desired behavior change.

So as a leader, you need to give your people hope, but you also need to show them what they have to do to make that hope become a reality. And finally,

4. Results
People want their leader to bring about results. After all, as executive coach Dan Coughlin puts it, "You're not paid to do activities; you're paid to improve results."

That's right ... improve results ... by bringing out the best in your people. "Your job as a team leader," says leadership consultant Adele B. Lynn, "is to help people live up to their best intentions."

And that invariably leads to more training. You can't expect your people to do better if they're not trained and equipped to do any better.

Unfortunately, there are some "leaders" who think they don't have the time or can't spare the money to give their people any more training. They may even wonder if the training is necessary.

I can help you answer that question by asking you two more questions. Do the majority of your people have talents that are not being tapped in their present jobs? And are you under pressure to produce more results without hiring more workers?

If you answered "yes" to both questions, you automatically know two things. First your people have unused capacity ... which you desperately need to get the results you want. Second, it's time to start developing that talent.

In summary, employees want four things from their leaders: Direction, Trust, Hope, and Results. When you provide those four things, your people tend to stick with you, and they perform exceedingly well. You're creating an environment where excellence is automatic and prevalent.

One of my clients, Medrad, a medical imaging products maker, puts it very well. As president and CEO, John Friel says, "I don't do anything. I don't make anything. I don't design anything. I don't sell anything, so the real work of this company is all done by other people. My job is to create the environment for those people to be successful, and I believe if I'm out and get a feel for what the real workers are doing, then I think it enables me to do a better job of creating the environment for them. Employees will know whether you're living this stuff or not. They're very smart."

If you're a leader, ask five of your subordinates to grade you on the elements of Direction, Trust, Hope, and Results. Ask them where you are the strongest and where you most need to improve.

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.

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