Why great leadership is an essential part of competitive advantage

Employees aren’t just part of a process! It’s easy to analyse a processes and think about how to improve efficiency. Where’s the waste? Where do things go wrong? Easy questions that don’t take a rocket scientist to look at and work out where to make adjustments that lead to better results. Hell – you can go on courses that help you learn how to manage and improve processes.  We live in a world where efficiency is key to success.  Where the ability to change things fast and effectively helps us to be better than our competitors. But process analysis is maybe the easiest challenge that managers face.  After all a process won’t talk back at you.  A process won’t tell you that it doesn’t feel motivated or that it is having a bad day – but employees do!

All processes involve employees. People! People with dreams, ideas, feels and ambitions. When a company fails to engage its employees, it is failing at the most fundamental level and the risks that it runs are potentially huge.

No employee gets out of bed in the morning and says “Hey – today I’m going to do a really bad job”. Things happen along the way, that can in fact mean that an employee does a bad job but that wasn’t the way the day started.

Employees are people and people are odd! Managers are people, so by default managers are also odd.  We all do smart things at work and dumb things.  What makes a great manager is their ability to not take everything so seriously. A manager who can look at their employees, see the mistakes that they make and think “What did I do wrong”, is in my book a great manager.

In 20 years of consulting work, helping managers to develop their leadership skills and helping employees to improve their performance I have on many occasions heard managers say that their employees are not motivated or that they do not have the competence to do a good job. 9 times out of ten there is nothing wrong with the employees’ motivation or competence – they just don’t understand what the manger really wants them to do. The joy of my job is meeting the manager that is prepared to laugh at themselves – the manager who accepts that it is their responsibility to make sure that employees understand what they want and consistently look for the things that they can do better, to help employees do the best that they can.  Such managers don’t grow on trees (unfortunately).  For them there is no prestige in the position that they hold, they don’t see themselves as better individuals than their employees. They realise that they make mistakes and are eager to learn from them.  They don’t think that they walk on water – they realise that they have faults but it’s no big deal; they see that they are already successful.

Managers who ask themselves what they can do to improve their employees’ performance first, rather than asking what their employees should do, realise the impact that they have on employee performance.

The see their employees as individuals. They notice what makes them happy, excited, frustrated and irritated.  They consistently work to remove the things that cause frustration and irritation.  They help people to grow by giving them constructive feedback, that may sometimes be negative.  Research shows us that employees like to be told what they do wrong – that’s how they improve their own performance.  They just like managers to do it in a nice way.

Much research is being done into how the brain works and the impact that it has on employee performance. We understand more and more why employees react in the way that they do to different situations.  We avoid things that we consider to be a threat and we move towards things that we consider to be rewarding or positive.

In a world where we attempt to be more and more efficient – managers would be wise to consider the fact that employees aren’t just part of a process. They don’t like change (and in all honesty – who really does?). When we are concerned about things in a negative way we become less efficient. Managers must therefore see their employees and understand their concerns and realise that sometimes they are not that great at leadership.  These managers will continue to grow and fine tune their leadership skills.  They will succeed in creating loyal employees that would go through fire to help the company achieve their goals.

If you wonder what type of manager you are, then I would recommend this simple exercise. Keep a diary for ten working days where you write down how often you tell employees that you appreciate the things that they do, that they make a real and positive difference to your company’s results or that you believe in their capabilities.  The praise you have given has to be real – so you can’t make it up just make your diary look good.  You will probably notice very quickly how much you criticize and how little you praise.  Remember that science tells us that people who are constantly criticized will disengage, become less motivated and in the end do a bad job.

The interesting thing with this exercise is that most managers very quickly become better at giving great feedback and start to see the people that they manage for who they are. It starts a positive motivational cycle, that everyone stands to gain something by.

Good luck and remember it’s just a job – if you’re fun to work for then people will perform better and you will reach your goals.