The following eight questions require a “Yes” or “No” answer. Answer them for yourself and see how your company shapes up with the Diagnostic Test results. If you score fewer than four “Yes” answers, give serious thought to implementing a programme that will update and upskill your leadership teams.
1 Have members of your executive team recently made a point of engaging with staff lower down in the organisation?
Diagnosis: If “Yes”, your executives have started migrating to a new leadership model, which embraces all employees no matter at what level they are. If “No”, your executives are still operating according to an outdated leadership model and have a need to be helped to reinvent the way they lead, regardless of their level of technical expertise. Today, business leadership is about leading people, not only about being an expert.
Comments: If executives do not engage with lower level people, they are still operating with a military (command and control) mindset which means there’s a large power gap between the top and bottom people in the organisation. This style of leadership is now being replaced by a flat structured collaborative leadership style where senior leaders are quite comfortable engaging in an appropriate manner with people at all levels in the organisation.
If your company’s leaders are not engaging with lower levels, they are denying themselves access to diverse perspectives across and throughout the organisation, and denying themselves the opportunity to acquire unique insights that could help them make a lot more astute decisions and open up the channels for innovation to be nurtured.
They may not realise it, but they are also operating with an exclusive, rather than an inclusive, mindset. By not engaging with lower level employees, executives are sending a very loud message throughout the organisation that employees and their opinions are not important. You can imagine what that will do to engagement, productivity and retention …
2 Do your employees share their anxiety and concerns with their managers/team leaders?
Diagnosis: If “Yes”, your team leaders are seen as human and approachable, which shows they care for team members beyond what they do for the company. Employees will feel supported by their leaders and be prepared to give of their best in return. If “No”, your leaders are still seen to be operating with an outdated military leadership model and require help to transition to the new model of leadership.
Comments: If employees are not prepared to share something of their anxieties and concerns that reveal their vulnerability, this is a clear indication that they do not trust their managers or team leaders. It’s also evidence of a management that is not compassionate or that listens.
In light of everything we’ve all been through over the past year, organisations have to prioritise building a strong culture of trust today. This is not for warm and fuzzy reasons but because of clear business imperatives that set people free to perform as best they can and should.
When your people don’t trust management, they are not focused on their work. Instead, they’re worrying about watching their backs in case their managers try to catch them out. A lack of trust therefore has a major impact on productivity, profitability and, ultimately, sustainability.
In a caring culture, employees will feel comfortable sharing their fears and anxieties but will know what the boundaries are so that they don’t abuse the freedom to express themselves.
It’s however important for such sharing to be managed sensitively but firmly as, if allowed to become out of hand, it can become a big time-waster where emotionally needy employees indulge in seeking attention and sympathy.
3 Does your company’s culture genuinely reflect your company’s values?
Diagnosis: If “Yes”, it is evident that the company’s values are being lived out by the leaders of the organisation. This suggests a high level of integrity in the leadership team as culture starts right at the top. If “No”, there is obviously a disconnect between what the company says it stands for and what actually happens in real life. This could suggest a lack of integrity at senior levels and a situation where the leaders are not living the values, making the values merely words on a wall.
Comments: If the company culture and the company’s values do not align in the real world, employees perceive the leadership to lack authenticity. This causes employees to start playing roles themselves in order to protect their own real identities. Depending on how bad this lack of authenticity is, it could begin to border on unethical conduct as people do not appear to be who they are. In other words, they’re living a lie, resulting in other cases of deception to colleagues and customers. This then impacts on the overall integrity of the company.
Employees who witness their leaders not reflecting the company’s values feel they are then also free to ignore the company’s values. “After all,” they reason, “if our leaders are not living the values, why should we?” Once this mindset takes root in a company, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate it.
4 Would you say your leaders and managers show empathy to their teams?
Diagnosis: If “Yes”, your leaders have started to understand the importance of being in touch with their people. They have therefore made the transition to a more compassionate leadership style which will stand the company in good stead. If “No”, your leaders are still operating according to a military model that does not show any care and interest for the staff and are in need of undergoing a transition process to understand the importance of changing the way they treat people.
Comments: Over the past 12 months, empathy has become one of the most important business priorities of the future. Executives and managers who fail to show empathy for their staff will experience a quiet breakdown in relationships. This will lead to a lack of influence in the lives and work of employees and will result in a disengagement. Such disengaged employees become a tremendous cost for the company as they will hide their disengagement very well, yet not perform as they should.
The attitude of, “Leave your personal problems at home, you’ve got a job to do,” was applicable in the military leadership model, but has no place in the new non-military model.
Leaders who do not show empathy will not get loyalty. They will get minimum effort. However, when employees feel their managers see things from their point of view and understand their challenges, they feel a commitment to giving of their best.
5 Has your executive team had any leadership training in the past six months?
Diagnosis: If “Yes”, your leaders understand the importance of lifelong learning and are open to learning new ways of leading in light of all the changes that have occurred in the past year. If “No”, your leaders are still old school and haven’t realised they have a need to update their leadership style. Their leadership will become increasingly outdated and irrelevant over time, resulting in them losing touch with evolving trends and with their workforce’s needs.
Comments: As we all know, the world and the workplace have undergone dramatic changes over the past year. If your executive team has not had any training in the past six months, they are merely paying lip service to the view that there have been dramatic changes in the workplace and that they don’t need to be assisted to make adjustments to the way they lead people.
This means that, should they wish to insist that employees should be upskilled and/or reskilled, they will not be taken seriously because they have not followed their own advice. Worse, if they don’t see the need for being trained themselves, they are revealing major blind spots in their own perspective
Executives often believe their technical skills are sufficient to ensure they can indefinitely lead effectively. That was true in the former dispensation but is no longer valid. A portion of their skills will also have become redundant, necessitating a need for their skills set to be updated. It’s also important that they set an example by demonstrating that lifelong learning applies to them as well. If they don’t, they’re resorting to the command and control approach of “Do as I say” and not, “Do as I do”.
6 Do you know why leadership skills are no longer enough?
Diagnosis: If “Yes”, your knowledge is right up to date. If “No”, your knowledge is not as up to date as you think it is!
Comments: While leadership skills are still critically important, there’s a difference between skills and qualities. Because of the increased complexity of the working environment today, leaders not only require technical skills but they also require certain qualities, such as empathy, ethics and authenticity. These are not skills. They are qualities, and you have to learn how to develop these qualities in yourself.
Leaders who fail to understand the difference between skills and qualities reveal how out of touch with current thinking they are. Skills were all that was required in the Mechanical Age, whereas, in the Digital Age, while skills are still important, they need to be complemented by the right qualities.
Certain new skills have also now become key business skills, such as active listening skills. Such skills were never really taken seriously by executives in the past but have now become a high priority.
7 Can you name the three things that will help you retain your people?
Diagnosis: If “Yes”, you’re well informed. Be aware, though, that most people can name three things that retain staff but it’s important to know that these “things” have changed over time. If “No”, you need to update your knowledge.
Comments: There are numerous practices that will enhance retention, however, in light of the changes caused by the pandemic, the following three have risen to the top of the list:
7.1 Purpose and meaning: With people having experienced the death/s of loved ones, friends and/or well-known people, they have started looking for a purpose and for meaning with regard to their own lives. Companies that embrace a purpose with which employees resonate will have a far greater chance of retaining their talent, despite the fact that their salary may not be ideal.
7.2 Relationships: With people having been deprived of regular human contact and interaction as a result of lockdowns, relationships have become much more important to them. Companies which build close, strong, warm and professional relationships with their employees will find that such relationships will act like a glue that keeps employees loyal to the company.
7.3 Safe environment: Employee safety has always been important but that mostly focused on physical safety. Now safety has expanded to include both emotional and mental safety. This now includes ensuring employees are not subjected to bullying and intimidation, and that there is an absence of fear in the workplace, giving employees the freedom to voice their opinions without making themselves vulnerable to undue criticism.
8 Do you have a smart succession plan in place at your company?
Diagnosis: If “Yes”, your company is highly likely to be sustainable if not more profitable in the future. If “No”, your company is operating on a month-by-month basis and has no clear strategy for the future in place. All one can say to you is, “Good luck!”
Comments: If a company does not have a succession plan in place, it is engaging in high risk activity as it is not planning for its own future. Investing in your next generation of leaders sends a very clear message to all employees that the company is thinking about its – and their – future. This contributes to a more stable environment where it’s not just a case of, “Let’s live for today” but, “We’re planning for a stable future.”
Beware, though. Leaders who are egotistical do not care about what happens to the company after they leave. In fact, they would get a secret satisfaction out of seeing it falter or fail after their departure as it would suggest that it was they who kept the company going. If you have egotistical executives, you will have to manage around their blind spots to create and implement a sound succession plan.
The Good News
All of the above issues are fixable. I have been conducting virtual public and in-house programmes to address each of the above challenges with much success. It has been extremely encouraging to see toxic, uncaring leadership teams reinvent themselves for the benefit of their employees, their clients and their bottom line.
To attend my next virtual Masterclass on how to “Cultivate Empathy, Authenticity and Ethics in Your Company”, click here to find out more and book your seat.
For more information on my customised in-house Leadership and other Programmes contact me via email directly and we can take the conversation forward on a “no obligations” basis!
Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net and @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and teaches experienced business leaders as well as millennial managers how to lead with empathy, integrity, purpose and agility. In 2018, he was named by US-based web site Disruptordaily.com as one of the “Top 25 Future of Work Influencers to Follow on Twitter“. In 2020, he was named one of the “Top 200 Global Power Thought Leaders to watch in 2021” by peopleHum in India.