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Effective Leadership

Nice Managers Finish Last

Throughout my career in human resources I have heard several managers and business owners say “I am here to run a business (or department, or project), not make friends.” While it may sound a bit brusque, it’s not an uncommon perspective of many Type-A individuals. Managers with this no-nonsense style get to the heart of problems quickly and efficiently implement their solutions. They have a track record of getting things done. They tend to have little patience waiting for people to “get on board” with their ideas. They know that their employees may not appreciate their approach all the time, but their results tell them that their approach works.

While this management style may produce good results in the short run, it is unsustainable for one reason: nice managers must work through other human beings. Most people do not respond well to ‘my way or the highway’ style of management. They may work to avoid getting on the bosses bad side, but they will often only give the minimum required to do so. The best and most ambitious employees will learn what they can from this type of boss, and then move on to another job at the earliest opportunity. That is a recipe for mediocrity.

On the flip side of the coin, managers who are overly concerned about whether their employees like them may have a hard time holding them accountable when they under-perform. They may delay or avoid addressing poor performance. When they do address it, their feedback is often diluted to the point of being ineffective for fear of offending their employee. High-performing employees would rather be on a team that produces results than report to a manager that never challenges them. And they will not suffer a manager who tolerates poor performance for very long.

The Best Managers Do 4 Simple Things

Extensive research shows that managers account for 70% of their team’s commitment and motivation to do a good job. Whether managers are liked by their employees is much less relevant to performance than the approach the manager takes to motivate them as human beings.

Here are four effective motivational techniques to use as an alternative to either of the ‘no-nonsense’ or ‘too nice’ approaches.

Focus on People’s Strengths

The groundbreaking book First, Break All The Rules presented decades of research by the Gallup organization that found that when managers focus on their people’s strengths, rather than beating them up for their weaknesses, performance and profitability increase. The authors pointed to evidence that suggests it is incredibly difficult and time-consuming to turn someone’s weaknesses into strengths. Instead, managers should focus on building on their people’s strengths and find ways to work around their weaknesses. The authors concluded: “relationships preoccupied with weaknesses never end well.”

Define the Results, Let Them Chose the Methods

There is nothing quite so motivating as being able to have control over your work. Likewise, nothing focuses performance as much as a clear objective. Managers must be very clear about the results they are after, and then give their employees the freedom to choose the methods to achieve those results.

Recognize Good Performance

If you have ever thought “Why should I praise someone for simply doing their job?”, consider this: behaviour that gets praised gets repeated. If someone does something well, let them know that they hit the mark so that they will know what to aim for next time. If you are worried about providing too much praise, don’t be. Research has shown that 61% of employees report receiving no recognition for doing good work in the last year. The same research also shows that teams who received individual praise every seven days are 10% – 20% more productive and profitable.

Eliminate Your Irritating Habits

Everyone, no matter how good a manager they are, unknowingly does things that demotivate the people they lead. These habits hamstring their ability to motivate their team. You can’t take your team higher when you are unconsciously bringing them down. Great managers are self-improvement junkies. They are constantly seeking unfiltered feedback so they can work on eliminating their bad habits and build good ones. Managers who do this unshackle their potential to motivate others. (Check out the Leadership Blind Spots Evaluation to help identify your own leadership idiosyncrasies.)

Incorporate these four behaviours consistently into your own leadership style and you will achieve real, measurable gains in employee performance.

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Written by: Michael Timms (President of Avail Leadership, a human resources consultancy that specializes in making the people-related aspects of leadership easier)

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