Almost every manager I speak to talks about the amount of time they spend on human resource issues. Some even feel overwhelmed. Unfortunately, most of the issues relate to interpersonal conflict between employees, bullying, blaming, poor performance, job dissatisfaction, gossip, complaints and whiney attitudes.
According to Cy Wakeman, author of Reality Based Leadership, and the keynote speaker at the upcoming QNET conference, part of the challenge is that many employees have adopted learned helplessness both in their personal and professional lives. In her view, employees are feeling they lack control and have an inability to change their circumstances. This results in negative attitudes and presents a problem for leaders.
In her view, the fault lies with leaders who over-manage and don't lead instead of coaching employees and developing their skills and expertise. When a leader acts in such a way, all they get from employees is excuses. This leads to even more workplace drama.
So what is the solution?
Wakeman suggests that first of all, leaders need to stop arguing with reality and quit making excuses for not dealing with issues when they arise. They also need to stop ignoring the facts of the situation and stop creating their own mental stories in which they picture themselves as a victim.
They must take personal responsibility for their own thinking by recognizing how they distort their initial thinking and assumptions about a situation and then fail to deal with situations in a timely manner.
She suggests leaders need to recognize that viewing their situation from a judgmental manner can lead to a chain of events that results in negative emotions, distorted and inappropriate actions and tainted results. For instance, when a leader makes an assumption and labels an employee as "lazy," then they haven't examined the situation carefully and may even be distorting reality. In the end, more than likely, the employee will not have been treated fairly in terms of job assignments and career development. When a leader gets bogged down in their own distorted thinking, they will lack energy, feel significant stress and will fail to be a good leader.
Wakeman's reality-based leadership framework is based on leading first and managing second. An overview of her advice includes the following:
- Resist the urge to do it yourself: The job of a leader is not to solve employee problems or complaints but to help employees develop the skills to solve problems themselves. The leader should ask numerous questions, help the employee to challenge assumptions and reframe the situation. They need to be taught how to examine the different aspects of a problem, determine what information is missing, and confirm what action is within the employee's control. In this way, the employee will learn to take responsibility and be accountable.
- Coach, coach, coach: Leaders need to help employees by reflecting back what they say about a problem. This feedback will often stun the employee into self-awareness and will lead them to an improved problem-solving mindset. Coach the employee on how to analyze a problem, how to examine the implications for the organization, brainstorm and evaluate potential solutions and then make thoughtful recommendations for action. When this type of thinking and analysis occurs, people feel in control, which in turn leads to job satisfaction.
- Work on confidence first: Fostering employee independence involves promoting confidence and competence. Encourage your employees and work with them to identify their strengths and then coach them through learning new things and reinforcing the skills needed to overcome areas of weakness. Acknowledge and compliment employees when they have reached success and continue to encourage them. Remember, confidence builds competence.
- Focus on the hearts and minds: Your job as a leader is to focus on the future to develop a compelling vision that you can share with your employees and encourage them to align their goals and objectives with yours. Delegate the technical aspects of your work whenever you can and avoid stepping in to take over or dictating step by step how things should be done. Focus on capturing the hearts and minds of your employees and get their goals aligned with yours.
- Let go of old duties: Sometimes when you are promoted to a leader, it is difficult to let go of old roles and responsibilities, especially those that you enjoyed. The same goes for promoting a staff person to a new role. It's difficult for people to see an employee in a new role and so as leader, you must help with this transition. Provide a mentor to help transition the person to the new role and be sure to reassign old duties so the newly promoted individual can get on with learning their new role.
- Deflect emotional blackmail: Sometimes, employees make objections that have no grounds in fact. For instance, someone might say, "Well, you've never brought this up before." This is an attempt to manipulate and pressure you. Be sure to acknowledge what people have said, avoid taking their comment personally and try to redirect them toward a more productive direction.
- Focus on the positive: Instead of paying so much attention to those employees who are not motivated, pay attention and reward those who are most willing. This will create role models who will be noticed within the organization. After all, they are the ones who are motivated and are the visionaries within your organization who will help to create and maintain a positive culture. Let people know what competencies are going to get rewarded.
- Provide ongoing feedback: In Wakeman's view, the cause of all employee issues is the lack of feedback from a leader. They deserve to have frequent and honest feedback about what they are doing well and what areas need development. Employees need to have a review of their job description, and be considered for new opportunities. They deserve to be mentored.
- Deal with resistance: Leaders need to make employees aware that buy-in to the vision and mission of their organization is not optional. This takes managerial courage because you need to address a lack of alignment quickly. You cannot afford to invest too much time trying to deal with resistance. If your efforts are not rewarded, it is time to help the employee move on with their career.
Leading and managing is not an easy job. However, it is made more difficult when a leader doesn't face reality. Instead, they create a story around a situation that places them in a victim role, and they fail to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, they spend too much time trying to fix employees who don't want to get on board. No wonder many leaders and managers feel overwhelmed.
Wakeman's advice? "Get real!"