January 22, 2016

Are You Brave Enough to Be The Best?

Bhanu Khan

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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!

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6 comments on “Are You Brave Enough to Be The Best?”

  1. Great information. All leaders and managers should strive to get better and should not fear open and honest feedback.

  2. I have something of a history of taxing a manager's ability​ to do his or her job. Something of a bell weather and, occasionally, the canary in the mine! I read an article like this many years ago written by Johnny Boden, of the online clothing website, talking about various ways mangers could improve, including the introduction of a manager review. I showed it my then manager and a friend who was also a manager in the same company. One was very interested and keen to implement the advice, the other less so. Unfortunately, I left that company some little time later, with no job set up to go to. I've always been resourceful and resilient though so I wasn't worried (and had just received an unexpected source of funds from a long lost aunt!). I've recently had to pursue the same course of action, for similar reasons. It seems a shame that in this country so little care is given to the development of managers. If you're lucky you get a good one, if not you look around for one who is. It could be better managed, I think! What we need is better manager management!

    1. Thank you Alison for sharing your experiences. Some managers are open to feedback and advice so they can do things better, while others are not so open. I agree, many places can benefit from better manager management!

  3. Thank you for excellent post. I am coming from Slovenia and in my opinion team building events do have an impact, but unfortanately under my experience only for short period of time. Since we are organizing team buidling events for our team regulary, on a daily, and even 6 months basis, I found that enthusiasm expire app. in one week from a team building event. What would you recommend for those situations and specially what is your argument about that in correlation with even organizing such events in the future.
    I think, if we need additional events afterwards, why bodering organizing the first one.
    Thanks for your opinion. Matija, Slovenia

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. In response to your question, I wonder what might happen if you organized smaller scale team building events on a regular basis to inject some fun and team spirit. Team building events do not necessarily have to be big events. I recently heard of an office that had an Easter Egg hunt for this holiday weekend which was a great success. All employees seemed to enjoy hunting for eggs, plus they had bunny ears and bunny feet stickers posted around the office which everyone thought was amusing. It was all light-hearted yet did the trick. What do you think?

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