We have long understood that a poor manager is the most significant factor in an employee’s decision to resign. Yet, a study conducted by Careerbuilder reports that 58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training. How can that be?
The top factor of an employee’s job satisfaction level is the quality of their relationship with management and the second most determining factor in their well-being. COVID-19’s toll on European well-being exceeds losses to GDP | McKinsey.
Another study by Mary Abbajay, “What to do when you have a bad boss,” reveals that more than half of Americans describe their boss as toxic, and 75% say their boss is the most stressful part of their day.
There is little wonder why the workforce is revolting and much work to do as managers to establish trust, rapport, and confidence in us. This data isn’t new. Leadership was successful in controlling the workforce through a traditional style of management. The employee was unhappy, but the barriers to making a change were higher pre-Covid. The confidence in their ability to succeed on their own terms and the plethora of opportunities out there to do so give the workforce little reason to be patient and hope things will “get better.”
Essential qualities of the post-Covid era Manager:
Leadership, especially senior leadership, has been rewarded for traditional management behavior. They set direction, tell people what to do, then control those who carry it out. The goal is to achieve the numbers; people are inconvenient barriers to attaining them. These leaders are comfortable with this process and know what to expect, confident in their ability to deliver “results” using these tactics. However, even as their employees resign in record numbers, they return to tactics that they know despite the absence of “results.” What is clear now in this new era is that employees want to influence decisions and outcomes that affect what is most important to them – in their work life and their private life. The 2020 shutdown blurred the line between these lives in a way we refused to acknowledge before. A new kind of leader and a new management style is needed to address the new workforce the Covid experience awakened.
The new post-Covid manager is the antithesis of the traditional one.
Direct, autocratic, and impersonal work management is so PC (pre-Covid). The results these traditional managers desire will come only from genuine servant leadership. Care and empathy replace a stoic, taskmaster approach to people for a servant leader and a commandeering, impenetrable persona exchanged for vulnerability, transparency, and warmth. A successful manager in this new era is a master listener, asks thoughtful questions then diligently follows-through with the information gained and commitments made. Gone is the manager who must have an answer and tell people what to do. Instead, they recognize their team as the experts in solving their own problems encouraging their insight and creativity by asking thoughtful questions. In doing so, they convey confidence in their ability to succeed and promote innovation. This new kind of manager empowers people to innovate, solve problems, and create options.
The post-Covid workforce looks at work as a relationship, not a transaction. Employees want to belong and connect with their boss and coworkers, not just to gather a paycheck. With the quality of their relationship with their boss being the most significant influencing factor on job satisfaction, and therefore “stickiness” with the company, managers need to prioritize developing a relationship with their team. They need to get to know them personally, who they are outside of work, what they enjoy, the struggles they face, and who is important to them. Managers need to care about their people.
The success manager has a genuine interest in and love for people.
We, humans, are very astute in detecting sincerity. If not communicated with authentic curiosity and concern for our employees, the conversation is received with suspicion and interpreted as manipulative. All trust and relationship are then lost.
It is essential to acknowledge that opening up to the boss is quite a stretch for employees requiring a significant amount of trust. The manager will need to take the first step and share about themselves. This vulnerability will encourage reciprocation even if it takes a bit of time. If the boss is willing to trust their employee with a peek into their personal life, it will help them do the same. Being vulnerable makes you relatable, and it creates empathy and provides a shared experience to bond around, connecting people at a deeper level.
But it’s not just vulnerability on the personal side. Openness requires admitting you don’t have all the answers in a work environment. This transparency will be difficult for traditional managers whose success and leadership credentials in the past were awarded by their ready solutions to problems. Unfortunately, the value placed on this trait often encouraged uninformed and unproductive decisions. Many a confident, quick decision-making leader has addressed a crisis and led their company in the wrong direction. They were rewarded for their “leadership” but lost respect by their organization for ignoring their valuable input. Employees don’t expect leaders to have all the answers but do expect open and honest communication and, as stakeholders, want to provide feedback on issues that impact them. By asking questions and involving those closest to the problem to come up with viable options, not only would a better course of action be chosen, but those that carry it out do so with enthusiasm and ownership in the outcome.
Being relational means acknowledging and valuing people’s unique personalities and traits. We recognize this by telling people how much we appreciate their boldness and courage to lean into difficult conversations, their quiet thoughtfulness in considering others’ opinions before offering their own, or their enthusiastic brainstorming that draws others into creative problem-solving. It is natural to connect more quickly with people like ourselves and value those like-minded traits more highly. But diversity is essential in all its forms to truly create a high-performing team and develop the most effective solutions. Differences are what make a team highly productive – and enjoyable.
A culture that values differences speaks to inclusivity, and inclusion is a feeling, not a data point. Whether it is personality, racial, gender, or age differences, those that are “different” know it and feel it. Managers need to provide a safe environment for their people to function, which means many things.
Safe means healthy. People should not have to put their health and wellbeing at risk, physically or emotionally, to provide food on the table for their families. Safe means that mistakes or failure is viewed as a learning experience. The only harm in failure is the failure to learn from it and the mistake repeated. Learning is supported with training both formally and in daily work. Safe means that a person is free to speak up, voicing opinions and ideas without fear of ridicule or retribution. And safe means that people are welcome members of the team included and valued, secure in a culture of zero-tolerance for racism, sexism, and any other “ism.”
Practically, managers live out these principles daily. They focus on drawing the quiet ones into a virtual meeting, calling out those with different perspectives and experiences to balance the conversation, and facilitating behaviors that might exclude others, such as talking over someone or interrupting. This awareness is critical when some attendees are in-person and others virtual. It is natural to engage more with those present physically, leaving those online struggling to participate. Consider using an assistant to monitor the chat and advocate for the virtual attendees to contribute equally.
Moreover, they serve as connectors. Managers introduce people on their team to others who can serve as resources, mentors, or friends. They create community by helping their team make relationships that encourage their sense of belonging, feel known and seen in the workplace, and enable their career and development. A successful manager further facilitates their team’s network by looking for ways to highlight their talents across departments and levels of authority, thus exposing them to opportunities for learning and recognition.
Every individual is different. Everyone has unspoken demands on their lives and resources, and work is just one. They also have unique needs, challenges, and capabilities. If managers focus on the individual, they must be fair yet flexible. Gone are the days when one-size-fits-all policies are acceptable. We certainly saw this as we opened up from Covid. The massive pushback to return to office edicts caused leadership in many companies to backpedal. They declared “hybrid” the interim solution. In the process, the individuals in organizations resigned en masse, choosing to move to a company that could accommodate their desired work style or dropped out of the workforce altogether.
Hybrid now takes on a different meaning.
It isn’t just a few days in-office and a few days at home. Hybrid is a term that describes a variety of workstyles: full-time work-from-home, full-time on-site, and a combination of them both. For managers, flexibility means accommodating various team members’ work schedules and work hours, balancing the workload while operating in virtual and physical work locations. Our workers want to be productive but are no longer willing to sacrifice their personal life to do so. If we don’t master how to manage the complexity their preferences require, we will lose them and have difficulty replacing them. Their replacements are looking for the same quality of life.
Practically, this means that we need to dive deeper into the personal side of our employees. Understand their needs and how we can produce while creating the least stress for all sides. Those who choose to work from home may do so for many reasons, such as financially making sense for a single mother or someone caring for an aging parent. Their needs early in the morning or after school to be off-line may choose to work late at night. Establishing regular days when everyone on your team is available will help communications and facilitate meeting schedules. Also, setting expectations about the urgency of responding to emails and texts is essential. Not doing so implies that people must always be “at work” regardless of the hour the request is received. This disrespect of personal time devalues people’s lives, time, and relationships and leads to burnout.
Recognize that managing a hybrid workforce is not hard science. Hybrid takes on a different flavor in every company and can vary even by department or leader, thus taxing a manager’s skill. Be open and honest that the work environment and operating norms will evolve as you find what works for your group. Actively seek out feedback and solicit ideas for improvement. There will be discoveries along the way, including new technologies and tools that will provide better collaboration and create new ways of working together. The message is, “It’s a learning journey we’re on together.”
In a hybrid work environment, setting clear and specific expectations is more critical than ever before. People tend to live up to the expectations set for them, provided that their manager conveys confidence in them to do so. If you expect they won’t deliver on time or will only put in a four-hour day, you’ve communicated that you expect them to fail. The likelihood that they will skyrockets. The lesson here is: to make realistic goals, communicate clear metrics of success, and demonstrate confidence in their ability to achieve those goals. Check in with them regularly, providing the update of their progress to plan, what challenges they see, how they expect to overcome them, and what help they need. Ask questions that help them discover their own answers. Ask them to walk you through their thought process, what they already tried to solve a problem, what they learned, and what they believe is the next step. They will walk away with new original ideas and increased confidence and ownership for the outcome.
Let’s be honest. Leadership is less about the leader and more about who’s following them. It’s about your team, not you.
“He who thinks he leads but has no followers is only taking a walk.”– John Maxwell
So where are you going?
Nothing unites a team more with each other or to their leader than a vision they all understand and embrace. It rallies a team around a common cause and achievement they all share. The leader’s job is to communicate this clearly and in ways that illustrate what it will look like when they achieve success and inspire them by describing how each person will experience it. But this isn’t something they just dream up. The company sets forth an objective, but the vision is a product of the input and ideas of everyone in the organization. As the leader pools the stakeholders’ knowledge, experience, and ideas, the possibilities of what could be and what is possible, a moving and inspirational picture of the future materializes.
The servant-leader here is the facilitator pulling together these ideas. They ensure that nothing hampers input and allows everything to be questioned. Unconstrained by legacy processes, tools, and resource allocation policies, true innovation happens, breakthrough ideas emerge, and quantum leaps in progress occur. The leader clarifies the vision into a memorable bite-sized picture, outlines the top priorities, and plans to achieve them. They clear out the barriers, secure the resources needed, and ensure everyone understands their role and impact on the project’s success.
In contrast to the traditional leader, a servant leader focuses on facilitating the execution of the plan, not controlling it. The agility demanded by today’s business environment necessitates shorter project sprints to milestones that define the next course of action. Much can change in just a few short months and require a new path forged that doesn’t diminish the learning and accomplishments along the way. A servant leader recognizes the importance of celebrating achievements at each interval before tackling the next.
The pace of change has made the “expert” manager obsolete. It is not possible to be forward-looking, anticipate the needs of the future, manage a team of people to execute on many initiatives, and maintain a level of expertise and intimate knowledge to ensure you have all the answers. Solving problems is what you hire your people to do. Yet most managers spend their days fire-fighting, not leading. They tell people what to do and how to do it rather than empowering them to find the solution.
Success is dependent upon managers embracing their role as coaches. When they do, they foster a culture of exploration and inquiry, which unleashes the talents and insight of a whole organization. However, when managers are the source for answers and solutions, the knowledge pool is restricted to only a select few. Throughout this book, we provided examples of thoughtful questions that encourage the transfer of problem-solving responsibility from the manager to the team. Coaching is a skill, or more accurately, a behavior that requires training and regular exercise to master.
The coaching culture builds resourcefulness and confidence throughout the organization and the ability to adapt to change with regular practice. In today’s fast-paced environment, the ability to draw out new ideas, change direction, and then perform on those changes is crucial. A culture that encourages individuals to challenge the status quo, rewards stepping up and leaning in, builds self-reliance, proactive problem-solving, and creates a fully engaged workforce. This kind of culture produces genuine engagement.
And when an organization is empowered to perform in the face of change, it is resilient.
When managers resist the temptation to provide answers and tell their people what to do and instead ask insightful questions to help them determine the solution themselves, they instill a thought process that thinks beyond the short-term fix. In a typical manager-directed situation, the answer is just a short-term fix that stops the pain but doesn’t completely fix the problem. It’s a reactionary approach, not thought through so soon after, issues recur. In a few minutes, thoughtful inquiry explores the consequences of each potential solution, and the ultimate solution has a long-term positive impact.
To thrive in the post-Covid era, organizations cannot afford to operate with a command-and-control management style. The good news is that even the most hard-core traditional manager can transform into a servant leader with an operational coaching management style.
Learn which signs to look for and what are the right questions to ask your employees before you strategize to move forward. Download our free Conflict Resolution here.