In the words of John C. Maxwell, “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less”. I was recently asked to intervene in an effort to resolve an ongoing situation between a sales leader and one of the organization’s top performers. It was clear from right from the start that what was driving the situation was the lack of ability to influence on the part of the leader. The impetus for my involvement had been an email exchange that had been forwarded through HR and on to the President of the organization. Unfortunately this was not the first instance in which the President of the company has been embroiled in a situation involving this particular leader.
To further set the stage it is important to know that there has been a history of churning people in this particular department. In fact, he’s hired and fired 18 people over the past 4 years. While he has a full headcount compliment of 12 currently, he and 5 others form a core group that generates over 95 percent of the team’s production. The core group have come to understand that being in his crosshairs makes life miserable and shifts their focus from positive production to a pure defensive posture. They have learned that while the organization suggests it values innovation they are best not to challenge the status quo with their leader. In the words of one contributor, “I just dumb everything down and try not to stand out from the crowd”.
The subject line of the email from the leader was “Confidential” went like this:
You have got to know this has to stop.
We either need a fresh start or a full stop. I can tell you that I am not jazzed in our conversations lately. I am here to advance our business and ask that all the associates who are independent, treat me with respect and with proper business process. I have asked outside counsel about our business relationship and he is telling me how to fix it. Yes there are two sides to all situations.”
My experience has been that leaders that “demand” respect rely almost exclusively on position power to get results. They’ve been known to badger, bully and cajole any member of the team as a means to the end of getting results. If leadership is about influencing your direct reports to perform the tactical activities that are aligned with the overall strategic plan then the style of leadership at play here is not effective, efficient of for that matter appropriate over the long run.
This situation I find myself involved in is a classic example of an effective but inefficient leader. Effective in the sense that he drives results but inefficient with respect to how he uses the resources available to him. The five core performers on his team are mature, seasoned, self-starting professionals that do not require a lot of management. They are focused on what they need to do to have the level of success expected of them by the organization but, continue to get knocked off stride by a leader consumed at getting results at all costs. The seven people in the churn group never get the training, coaching and management they need to develop successful habits.
My coaching to this particular leader was that respect is commanded, not demanded. It is earned by our words and actions and one small misstep can completely alter the course of events. Your ability as a leader to build a foundation of trust in a supportive, cooperative, consistent, future focused environment is what earns your stripes within a team and the organization. In most cases I’d say that if you have to rely on position power to make your point or to make things happen you’re really behind the eight ball.
I pointed out The Conference Board of Canada’s definition of employee engagement:
“Employee engagement is a heightened emotional and intellectual connection that an employee has for his/her job, organization, manager, or co-workers that, in turn, influences him/her to apply additional discretionary effort to his/her work.” In doing so I wanted to draw attention to the fact that those leaders that supervise frontline, individual contributors are most directly responsible for the level of the engagement with the team and to a broader extent, the organization. Liz Wiseman points out that leaders either have the capacity to multiply or diminish talent in her book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.
Fortunately we had completed an alignment survey with this client and were able to compare the data we received from the group of individual contributors with that from the leader of this team. While the leader sees the organization as one that is functioning at a very high level with great internal communication his direct reports do not agree as evidenced by the two charts shown below. The gap in the scores for the Top 5 strengths would suggest that this leader has a myopic view of the reality that exists within his team and organization. Any time there is a 30% opportunity for improvement in areas that are considered strengths I get concerned. We see a mean score of 69.2 for the top 5 below.
We should be seeing scores just like those of the leader. A range of 83 to 96 indicates that there is a strong level of alignment with this employee, his supervisor and the strategic plan for the organization. His boss is definitely making this a great place to work and providing him with the style and frequency of communication required for him to be successful.
When we look at the Top 5 weaknesses groupings the gaps become even more obvious. The reality is that this team is not in alignment with its leader and as a result are not even close with the overall strategy that is in place for the organization. It is easy to see how Jim as a part of this team could be having some issues of respect with his supervisor looking at the team results below and the gap in perception.
I wish I could say that this was going to be an easy situation to correct but the truth is that I’m working with a leader that has a long way to go to repair the level of trust required in order to regain the respect of this particular team. Alan Jackson, a LinkedIn colleague, reminded me recently that there are three elements required to produce a high performance, engaged culture:
- Defined processes
- Common understanding
Within this context I would add the need to develop trust, be respectful and respected, act consistently and above all be a person of influence.