Have you heard the saying, "People don't leave jobs, they leave managers."? There are various forms of this saying, but we all know exactly what it means, don't we? At some point, most of us have either been tempted to leave or will actually have left a job because of our manager's style of leadership.
If you're a manager, how does this saying make you feel? In the past, when someone moved on from your team, did you wonder if there was something you could have done differently to retain them? If it's rare for your team members to leave, you may feel reassured that you're doing all the right things in your role. However, if you need to recruit replacements for them often, you may want to take the brave step of looking critically at the manager in the mirror.
This article puts forward research by Gardner and Hanks, which identified the following behaviors of someone who is planning to leave their team:
- Declining productivity.
- Reluctance to commit to long-term projects.
- Becoming more reserved, and quieter.
- Losing interest in advancement.
- Losing interest in pleasing their boss.
- Avoiding social interaction with management.
- Performing the minimum amount of work.
- Reluctance to participate in training and development.
If you notice any of these behaviors within your team, it may be time to find out what's going wrong and shake things up. There are lots of resources that will help you to appraise your managerial attitudes and techniques. These will help you to be the best manager possible and avoid common pitfalls that managers make. But to know more accurately what you need to improve in your own practice, it's better to ask those who work with you. Sound too scary a prospect? Well, you'll be pleased to know that shortly I'll be introducing a (slightly) less daunting way to find out what your team really think... though you may need to brace yourself!
It's nigh on impossible to find out what your team members really think of you directly. Generally, people are far too polite to be overly critical, and most will try to avoid confrontation. This also extends to exit interviews. Though an exit interview is a good opportunity to talk tactfully about any shortcomings of their team or management, often people will be too mindful of receiving a bad reference to be critical.
Instead, you could implement a new appraisal process. However, this appraisal will be of you, rather than your team members. The idea is to provide your people with a questionnaire that they can fill out and return anonymously. You can include specific questions that will help them focus on manager-to-team processes. This may go some way to preventing criticism becoming personal. If you’re particularly brave, or confident, you could go for the "no holds barred" approach, and give them free reign on whatever information they want to offer you.
Before implementing this kind of process, think carefully about it and decide if you can commit to it fully. It'll only work well if you're willing to act upon any opportunities for improvement that your team members present. They won't be invested in the process if they feel that nothing will change, so let them know how committed you are. Make sure you keep your promises, as failing to do so may demotivate your team.
You will need to prepare yourself to receive criticism objectively and try not to take it too personally. It may help you to keep in mind the end objective of the exercise: a more effective team and a better relationship between you and its members.
I've not yet known a manager brave enough to take this approach, but I've worked as part of teams that needed it... and how they did! It's obvious to me that being a manager of a team is not an easy role. You need to build and maintain good relationships with your people in order to have an effective team (and enjoy being at work), yet you hold a lot of the power in these relationships - enough to make people nervous of getting it wrong! It may not be possible to be your team members' best friend, but you have the potential to be the best manager they've ever had… and that's a wonderful thing.
How about you? Are you a manager that has tried to find out what your team thinks of your leadership style? How did it go? Or are you a team member that offered feedback about your manager? How did your manager take it? Did it make a difference to your team? Join in the discussion below!