The Se­cret In­gre­di­ent to Good Busi­ness

SLOW Magazine - - Must Go -

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.

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