Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why bosses have to act "bad and tough" ?

Many management theories show the importance of supervisor-subordinate relationships. They are one of the principal drivers of employee engagement or the staff turnover. So why bosses still have to act tough and bad? After all, each year companies spend billions on leadership training and development. And the number of books on how to be a better, more effective leader must be approaching infinity. Suffice it to say although the boss may be “bad,” that boss has been extraordinarily successful and is continuing to thrive by any reasonable measures. That’s because numerous studies point to an inherent contradiction between the prescriptions about how to get the most from others on the one hand and the realities of what it takes to build your own reputation and power on the other. While being positive, supportive, and warm often gets the best from subordinates, being critical and even nasty results in more attributions of intelligence and competence. Because people usually get hired (and promoted) on the basis of how competent they appear, companies, sometimes unintentionally, reward precisely the opposite behaviors that would make someone a good boss.

Some studies show that people who want to appear smart engage in more critical behavior than those who want to appear nice or a control or silence group. Other research on group perception also shows evidence of a compensation effect, so that being rated positively on one dimension is likely to lead to being seen much less positively on a second dimension. Groups are perceived as either warm and incompetent or competent and cold. The conflict between the behaviors required to be a good boss and the actions often necessary to attain and hold onto leadership positions helps explain why many people find that their best opportunities for obtaining coaching and mentoring come from people not at the most senior levels nor on the fast track. Unless people can overcome the oft-observed psychological tendency to see the traits of warmth and competence as negatively related and softness as a sign of weakness, there seem to be very slim prospects for implementing all of the good advice about how to be a be a better leader.

Leadership "gurus," and lots of employees hate to hear this, but the truth is that the skill-sets and metrics for being a good boss, from the perspective of employees, are not necessarily aligned with those of being a good manager, from the perspective of the goals of the company.  In a brutally competitive global market, if you're a shareholder in a company - make no mistake, that's who owns the company - what do you want its leadership focused on, shareholder value or turning out "good managers?"

Can you have it both ways? But in the real world, well, you might just as well ask, "can't we all just get along?" It just doesn't work that way where human beings and the different level of educated people around your company are involved.

There could be companies and organizations rewarding "bad" behaviors and discourage "good" ones, and they do so to their own detriment. While this may appear to serve the company/organization's aims, one wonder if the "bad" CEO calculated the cost to the organization of losing the talent he alienated and having to recruit, train, and indoctrinate replacements? If so, was that cost worth the benefit of whatever outcomes the tough boss has achieved? Companies/organizations almost never look at the direct and indirect costs of "bad" or "tough" boss behavior because they are less visible than the potentially good outcomes the "bad" boss may achieve (but perhaps not less costly).
The cost of creating fiction instead of being honest with employees is the reduction in creativity, production and commitment they have to the overall good of the company. A feeling that you cannot trust the veracity of your superiors introduces worry and insecurity into the worker. That worry, combined with the general letdown, might cause the slide of the productivity. More to the point, it may cause someone to not suggest a radical change to a product or service that would double the profitability.

Managers shouldn't be 'old softies' who don't hold their employees accountable, they should insist on excellence from them, AS WELL AS from themselves. An excellent manager will inspire loyalty from excellent employees, who will stay on and help fight through downturns and troubled times, even when they could have better opportunities elsewhere. If the captain stays with the ship, the First Mate and others are more likely to stay with them.

Nasty may never be good! The same can be said for being cold or aloof. Unfortunately, such adjectives have come to equate superior knowledge??? By whose definition? The irony is that the opposite is more often true. Being understanding in approach does not mean one is soft. Seek first to understand is the mark of a strong mind and demands more courage than many percieive.

Leadership is now and always has been about influence. There is no conflict in the different types of behavior. As Ken Blanchard has known for years, the appropriate behavior for a leader is situational. Sometimes requiring directive behavior; other times requiring supportive and all of the nuances in between (coaching, collaborating, delegating...).

It was written in the late 1990's that there is a dearth of leadership talent in the ranks of corporate companies. Far too many experienced leaders were discarded leaving a vacuum. Too many people found themselves in leadership positions who had never been given the opportunity to observe and learn about how to lead. We have come to equate leadership with having an MBA, having read a certain number of books, or success in "climbing the ladder". These things can certainly be positive, but will not teach leadership. Leadership is an acquired skill requiring time, observation,learning, failure, examination, and practice; no different than the practice of medicine or law. Like an apprentice good leaders usually had the benefit of good example. We now suffer from leaders who have never had the benefit of observing real leaders practicing their craft. Now young leaders get up there purely by chances or just happened to be someone leaving the seat. They have less experience and not being trained to take on challenges before.
The older and senior employees are finding that the hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place.  Good luck to those organization with bosses thinking they have the great idea to move ahead with inexperience employees.

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