This post is by contributor Jennifer V. Miller, managing partner of SkillSource and author of the blog The People Equation. Connect with Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferVMiller and SkillSource on Facebook.
Bill, an executive at a large company, made an impromptu appearance at a department meeting attended by 30 employees. He gave a rousing pep-talk that concluded with “I’ll support your decision to say ‘no’ to non-value-added projects.” With that, he departed to refrains of “Thanks, Bill!”
Here’s the part Bill didn’t see — the cynical comments making the rounds later that day: “So, what do you think Bill will say when I tell him ‘no’ to one of his pet projects? Like he’ll really ‘support’ me — he’s the King of Non-Value-Added Projects!”
Bill’s story highlights how a leader’s reality can be vastly different than that of his workforce. Most leaders think they’re in tune with their employees, but in many cases, they overestimate just how “plugged in” they really are. In Bill’s mind, he was being approachable and supportive. In contrast, others saw his remarks as disingenuous.
According to new research, Bill’s not the only leader who has a perception problem. A poll conducted by Maritz Research revealed that only 11% of employees “strongly agree” their managers show consistency between their words and actions. Because employees judge their leaders’ trustworthiness largely by the consistency of words and deeds, this lack of congruence spells trouble for a leader’s credibility.
Why does this happen?
For one, it’s because there are multiple “realities” in any organization, depending on the role that one plays. Executives face the reality of bringing in profits. Midlevel managers juggle competing demands of company and employee needs. Front-line supervisors and employees must continually show productivity increases. There’s no one single “reality,” so effective leaders must know how to tap into the mood of all the players to stay tuned in.
How plugged in are you? Use this reality check to find out. Can you:
- Write an e-mail without using a single buzzword? Words like “actionable” and “incentivized” make employees roll their eyes, and in the process, create distance between the leader and the reader.
- Name at least five challenges your front-line employees currently face, and what’s being done to resolve them? No? Then it’s time to go out and learn about it firsthand.
- List three examples of an employee productively disagreeing with you in the past month? If not, then people aren’t speaking up enough. This may signal that you are stifling conversation, which may lead to differences in perception of a situation’s reality.
- Describe how a major company initiative will benefit not only outside stakeholders and customers, but the employees as well? If the focus is always on the external aspects of your company, employees will unplug and check out.
- Cite several examples of how your thinking has changed due to employee feedback? Coming up short? Then it’s possible that there’s a gap between what you say about feedback and actually do to gain it.
“Reality” has many faces. Even the most attuned leaders have an occasional lapse in awareness. Leaders who build these five checkpoints into their daily practices stand a much better chance of staying in touch with reality, and in the process, building trustworthiness with their followers.
Image credit: Yuri_Arcurs via iStockphoto.com