Leadership, The Only Way To Manage People

By Ben Simonton

Managing people is all about leadership because leadership is the only way to bring out their full brainpower, in other words, their full potential of creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation and commitment. What’s required is a superior leadership strategy because without it, your employees might just decide to “leave their brain at the door” as they enter your workplace.

People are our most important asset. The best ones are self-motivated self-starters, but over 90% of the average workforce are followers, some more so and some less. They became followers, conforming to what they think is expected of them, because of being told what to do from birth by a long line of authoritarians: their parents, teachers, churches, government and finally bosses. As such, they waste most of their brainpower trying to discover what’s expected of them, leaving little time to make use of their innate creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation and commitment.

In comparison, self-motivated self-starters use all their brainpower on the work and none on attempting to follow. Thus their performance is consistently outstanding and does not deteriorate because of following bad leadership or becoming demoralized. For this reason, a superior leadership strategy is capable of making the vast majority of employees self-motivated self-starters. These self-starters are at least 300% more productive than if poorly motivated.

So what is a superior leadership strategy?

Values are central to this strategy because employees respect actions that reflect high standards of all the good values. They respect industry, fairness, forthrightness, honesty, compassion, humility, integrity, etc, while they disrespect actions reflecting low or negative standards like dishonesty, arrogance or unfairness.

More importantly, followers will conform to the value standards reflected in the boss’ support functions, good, bad or otherwise. These support functions are training, discipline, tools, direction, information, technical advice, parts, material and the like. If the tools are hard to find, dirty and often obsolete, followers will use this extremely low standard of quality in performing their work. They will also conclude that the boss does not care about them and will use this same standard of caring in their actions toward each other and customers. Thus, conforming to whatever standards are reflected in the boss’ support is what followers do.

Listening is any boss’ most important leadership skill for a multitude of reasons. For instance, people can’t be motivated or committed to something if they are unable to “put in their own two cents”, when they want and how they want, and receive reasonable, timely and respectful responses. They must also be given the opportunity to understand and be in on the decision process for all things that affect them. When employees are given the right to influence outcomes, they will feel ownership of the workplace and from this comes a sense of commitment and trust.

So what should bosses do?? Start with providing employees frequent and regular opportunities, one-on-one and in groups, to express their complaints, suggestions and questions. These must be answered fully and in a timely fashion, no shooting from the hip, please. All of the boss’ actions in so doing, including any fix, must meet the highest standards of common values such as honesty, respect, fairness, forthrightness, industriousness, admission of error, knowledge, quality, respect, and the like. As complaints are successfully addressed (people generally only complain about things which reflect standards lower than their own), the boss’ support/leadership improves and as followers use these higher standards, work performance improves. Turning low or mediocre support standards into high standards is the essence of good leadership.

In the process of addressing workplace problems, the boss must cause employees to analyze problems and develop solutions at group meetings. Followers will thus have to think through how and why to solve problems and watch others do the same, the most proficient being your non-followers. Followers will thus be practicing using their brainpower on the work rather than wasting it trying to follow. And as they do, they will be unleashing their own creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation and commitment. The more practice they get, the more productivity will rise and keep rising, but only so long as their complaints, suggestions and questions continue to be addressed respectfully, completely and regularly. Why even make a complaint or a suggestion if no action will be taken? Why not just “leave your brain at the door”?

So the boss’ main function is not one of solving workplace problems and deficiencies but of leading employees to do so. Of course, the boss must simultaneously provide the highest quality of support (leadership) so that employees can understand how high standards are used to analyze and resolve problems.

In addition, as their complaints are respectfully addressed, employees will begin to believe that their bosses care about them. They will begin to believe that they are valued team members. They will learn by example how best to treat their customers, each other and their work.

There are many more elements to a superior leadership strategy such as: more than 20 principles or laws of leadership, when not to use orders (the most destructive management action), how to listen, how to demonstrate 21 relevant values and conduct 9 support functions in a way to reflect high value standards, how to conduct one-on-one and group meetings, and how to deal with problematic workplace conditions and behaviors. These are all based on how employees react to their managers. Each reaction must be taken into consideration in creating a superior leadership strategy. You can discover all of this on your own if you take the time to analyze how you react to bosses, and to carefully listen to your employees. Once you understand these reactions, designing the leadership strategy is straightforward.

Leaders would be well advised to spend more time making certain that their actions and support meet the highest standards of all relevant values.

By Ben Simonton, 34 years of managing people with four successful turnarounds including a nuclear-powered cruiser and a 1300 person unionized group in New York City. Author of “Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed”. subtitled “The Whats, Whys and How Tos of Becoming an Exceptional Manager of People”.

Simonton Associates

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