The Secret Ingredient to Good Business
Any person involved in the business world will know the importance of great leadership, and how one person in a leadership role can change everything. Those men did not follow King Henry into the breach in Henry V because they liked his shiny sword – he was a great leader and his men followed him all the way to their graves. It is probably not the most uplifting story, but it goes a long way to illustrating just how far a good leader can effect the morale within and the performance of a team.
In recent years, the tide of opinion has changed on what makes a good manager. Jenny Boxall, who runs the programme for Management Development at the UCT Graduate School of Business, says that it used to sit very squarely in the experience and qualification sector – someone with the most knowledge on a topic must know how to best manage the people also working with that same subject. After all, ‘knowledge is power’ is it not? The person who has all the technical answers must hold a greater understanding of the subject, and all things to do with it. “Companies all over the world are starting to realise that leadership is a lot more than just technical knowledge, academic expertise, and on-the-ground experience. Great leaders have a certain quality about them; a way with people that allows them to relate on a personal and professional level simultaneously” she says.
The international game-changer, Google, started looking for these characteristics of self-awareness and self-knowledge after they did a survey of 10,000 managers. This survey revealed that, surprisingly, the most important qualities a manager should possess (according to the majority of answers) were about communication and relationship building. According to Laszlo Bock, the former Senior Vice-president of People Operations at Google, the company used to hire for technical expertise, but soon discovered that it was nowhere near as important as originally thought – “it turns out that that is absolutely the least important thing. It is important, but pales in comparison”. He then went on to explain that the ability to connect, listen, and help were rated more valuable skills by the people they manage.
The effects of working under bad leadership can be profound. Anna Nyberg of the Stress Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, did a study of over 3,000 men over ten years that revealed people who work under uncommunicative managers were 60 % more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases. The behaviour of managers having a direct effect on the physical health of their employees, is a terrifying truth, and in the modern era, there is really no excuse for poor management.
David Waters, a qualified psychotherapist, writing for The Observer, cited three ways managers can avoid being labelled a ‘bad manager’. The first is quoted as “cognitive understanding” – the ability to understand the problems and obstacles faced by their teams of employees. Being a leader is all about understanding, knowing when to use emotive rationale and knowing the limitations of a team. Simply admitting that the tasks set are difficult ones will go a long way in communicating empathy and understanding. A happy team is a productive one, and managers forget this only at their own peril. The second must for managers is showing ‘emotional understanding’. Employees are so much more than numbers on paper – they make a company work, without them there is no product, service, or experience. Understanding a team on a more emotive level is of utmost importance in the modern business economy, and often when employees do not get that kind of understanding, they look for better opportunities and leave, which does the company damage in the long run. A high staff turnover is an alarm bell for any job-seeker. Finally, the third way to avoid being that stereotypical villainous boss is the ‘ability to motivate’. What good is a manager if they cannot get the best out of their team? Showing a team that you understand their frustrations, grievances, and difficulties goes a long way towards making you an approachable figure, and therefore a better leader.
To lay things own very simply – being open and approachable is the best way to manage. But, what happens when discipline is needed? It is a fair question, and it is true that nobody likes being reprimanded. This is another key characteristic that all good managers need – the ability to be fair and respectful when dealing with employee discipline. Being able to reprimand an employee while still listening to their side and explanation is an incredibly vital skill. If the manager has a reputation of being fair and approachable, this process is made much easier.
Whether you are currently a manager, teamleader, CEO, or mentor, the skills of empathy, understanding, and communication have never been more valuable in a working environment. Try to approach every situation with an open mind and a level head – your employees will respond better to an approachable boss rather than a volatile one.