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Why Managers Must Lead

Authority is not enough to move people to great performance

ASK A MEDIOCRE manager, “Why do people work at work?” They will typically reply, “Because they get a paycheck.”

No, I answer, that’s why they have a job. What I am asking is why they care. Why do people put their hearts into their work? Why will they go above and beyond what is required? Why are they self-motivated to pursue excellence?

If they do these things, it is not because their manager asserts his or her authority. The most you can get with authority alone is compliance. To receive willing commitment from employees, a manager must exhibit and practice the fundamentals of leadership.

Professional competence is not enough

Professional Competence (knowledge and skills in one’s area of expertise) is not enough to succeed in a leadership role. This is why we in Sherpa Coaching teach a concept called Impact On Business (IOB). While most executives and managers describe their qualifications in terms of their Professional Competence, that is only half of the story. Their IOB is actually determined by their Professional Competence plus their Personal Conduct (Behaviors).

No organization has executives who are that much smarter than their competitors. They all tend to have education, product knowledge, and experience similar to their peers. Mark it down: If Company A is much more profitable and effective than comparable Company B, it is because of the leadership ability and behaviors of its executives; in other words, their IOB. This principle holds true for a giant corporation or for a small office with a handful of workers.

“Is it really that important,” some people ask, “this emphasis on a manager’s behavior?” Let me sketch out four examples of leaders ─ each of whom registered highly in terms of Professional Competence ─ but who undermined their own success because of behavioral issues.

Marcus: “Too busy for you”

Marcus was surely knowledgeable and hard-working. He treated his subordinates, however, as if they were annoying inconveniences rather than team members he was there to lead and serve.

He scarcely paused typing or turned his head when someone knocked on his door frame. When Marcus did stop and look at the person, it was through a deep frown accompanied by the sound effect of drumming fingers. The message was clear. Everything said, “You are an interruption to me. What is the matter with you? Are you really so incompetent …?”

His impatience caused members of his team to avoid bringing issues to his attention. They learned to leave him alone unless absolutely necessary. Much inefficiency resulted, as they were abandoned to figure out answers and directions on their own. Without leadership, a couple of his strong-willed employees began to take over the office culture. Predictably, serious mistakes began to occur while he was too busy to notice. Still, he thought of himself as “obvious leadership material.”

Teresa: “Remote and intimidating”

Teresa was a whirlwind, a powerhouse who could outwork anybody. She knew more, could think faster, and her stamina never seemed to run short. She knew it, and everybody who worked around her knew it, too. So they did the logical thing: They quit trying. There was no use competing with Teresa. Just being around her made you feel exhausted. Nobody believed they could measure up. This effect is called Intimidation through Knowledge and Activity.

The sad thing is that her team admired her. They wished she would slow down and share some of the wisdom and experience she’d accumulated. They wished she’d take the time to understand where they were in their learning process, and teach them how to do it better. But Teresa was content, apparently, with carrying three times the load of her subordinates.

That means the potential output of Teresa’s department was limited largely to what she could do by herself, with a little help from others. Though her group had the potential to multiply her work many times over, she didn’t take the time to develop them as a team.

Shawn: “No professional boundaries”

Shawn wanted to be one of the girls. To her, the best thing about work was the social interaction. She dressed like, talked like, and acted like the rest of her mostly female department. She engaged in the lively conversation as they worked together, sharing and hearing about everyone’s private lives, marriages, parenting adventures, and stresses.

Shawn didn’t feel there was anything wrong with that — until she needed to act like a manager. Suddenly it became crystal-clear that her subordinates didn’t take her seriously as an authority figure. Having allowed her team free rein to behave as they wanted and act impulsively, they resisted any attempts to draw boundaries or enforce rules.

She struggled to shift gears and try to exert some kind of leadership and bring order to her office. It was painful for Shawn to rise to the occasion as the leader, and it caused hurt feelings and resentments to sprout up. She felt ostracized and lonely.

Nathan: “Constant negativity”

An acknowledged expert in his field, Nathan had a sharp tongue, a quick wit, and no filters. Everyone in his department was subject to his editorial comments all day long. He criticized other departments, his company’s leaders, company policies, individual managers, and their customers.

If you mentioned someone’s name in Nathan’s presence, he had a critical comment to make. It didn’t matter if that person had been in his office having a friendly conversation that very morning. Once gone, they were fair game.

Listening to him, you might come to the conclusion that Nathan was an astute observer and analyst. After all, he was often accurate in his negative observations. The question of whether the comment was helpful, constructive, or worthy of being made at all was another issue. Of course, any person in the vicinity who observed this behavior for any length of time also came to another conclusion. They thought, If Nathan talks critically about everybody else behind their backs, then what does he say about me when I’m not around? It has to be the same kind of thing.

So, regardless of how much people respected Nathan’s personal expertise, there was an unintended fruit of his undisciplined tongue: He lost more and more credibility with others and their trust. He thought he was displaying intelligence through his keen critiques of everyone and everything, but what he really demonstrated was something else — that he was not trustworthy or safe, and you are better off not giving him anything to use against you.

Beyond that, his constant criticism of other departments and the company’s leadership beat down his team’s morale, and his negative attitudes spread to others.

A leader’s challenge

Leading a group of people to work together toward a common goal is one of life’s greatest challenges. Not everyone can do it. But to those who can, there are immense rewards for the effort in achievement, camaraderie, and significance.

According to Hal Adler, “The people who succeed as leaders are the ones who create positive environments around them.” That means this issue of Impact On Business with its emphasis on behavior cannot be ignored.

While it’s always appropriate to work on improving your knowledge and skills, that won’t be enough in the long run. There is a second side, behavior, that will determine the measure of your IOB. And never rely on authority alone to motivate people to great performance. That requires leadership. Li

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