When the blind lead the sighted… (Guest commentary)

Leaders need great people skills to thrive and get the most out of talented workers, so why are organizations so bad at identifying deficiencies?

Leaders need solid human interaction and communication skills to be effective. Yet many organizations struggle to identify leaders and senior managers who are having difficulties with these skills. Far too many organizations operate on the assumption: “if I hire a leader with great credentials, she will be great with people.” But that’s a dangerous mistake.

Just as computers and software need upgrading on a regular basis, so too do the minds and behaviours of leaders. The cost for companies that fail to nurture the thinking and interpersonal skills of their leaders is tremendous. But the benefits for those that can take their leaders to the next level are even greater.

Leaders need to learn to model what they want others to follow. An executive who is perceived as intimidating will find very few people with the courage to confront him, even when they know his behaviour puts productivity, quality and profit at risk. Without clear, direct feedback and two-way dialogue about his behaviour, he will see no need to change.

That’s why it’s important for organizations to put more value on people than on things like technology. Doing otherwise runs the risk of endorsing leadership decisions that undermine human beings. Take a look at the following warning signs to see if your organization is showing any of the classic symptoms. If any of them sounds familiar, warning bells should start to go off — your leaders’ people skills are costing the organization and likely need a reboot.

5 traits of highly unsuccessful organizations

•Our leaders create business plans from day one in the absence of direct input and buy-in among those who must do the work. Implementation is then slow and costly.

•We make major decisions based on short-term profit, limited vision and shareholder needs while failing to develop strong interpersonal competencies and connections. We need teams who work compatibly with each other. We do poorly at developing this.

•We set aggressive deadlines and repeatedly fall short. Engineers and other professionals experience a sense of failure about compromised values and quality. Motivation drops.

•We’re reluctant to pay experts for good advice early on and we do too much ourselves. Decisions are delayed. This costs us dearly in time and opportunities lost.

•We focus on analysis and technology. Preoccupied with perfection we leave no room for failure and no room for learning or growth. We limit our potential this way.

5 sure-fire ways to kill talent

•We put square pegs in round holes and then label them “failures” even when they’re great at other things. The label sticks. Other highly skilled professionals must pick up the slack. Frustration, irritation and anger grow. Efficiency and time are wasted.

•We hire “shining stars” then criticize and deflate them rather than support and help integrate their talent. They fade within six months. Sensing themselves as failures, they stop trying and look elsewhere as soon as possible. Highly skilled, expensive and scarce talent is lost.

•We undermine a manager’s ability to “fix a team problem” by deciding ourselves what’s best for his team. Parachuting in a specialist of our choice kills our managers’ motivation.

•When our president sees our work (VPs and senior managers) as never enough and never good enough, we question ourselves and become increasingly hesitant to act on our expertise and knowledge. Paralysis spreads throughout the organization. Timely decisions aren’t made and those that are, lack passion and energy, putting quality and productivity at risk.

•We put the cart before the horse, talking about building strong teams yet failing from the outset to include people who are part of our team. Buy-in is minimal. While we want high performing teams, we know little about motivating and involving people.

Everything happens in a company through people. Like plasma, they give it life. The behaviours outlined above result in fear, not growth. And that fear minimizes human potential and decreases profit. What organization can possibly afford this? How would shareholders or venture capitalists respond if they knew?

When a leader values his people and learns to really talk and think with them, it spawns a collective mindset. Knowing they’re valued and their personal best is appreciated, employees give more. Energy, motivation and commitment to work and the workplace increase. Confidence, competence and self-esteem soar. Enthusiasm is palpable. Efficiency and productivity increase, saving the company plenty in time and money. And the best part? There are no exceptions to these rules.

Janice Calnan is a consultant with Calnan Group in Ottawa which provides corporations, executives and other professionals with effective human interactive tools to increase quality, productivity and profit. She can be reached at (613) 721-5900 or e-mail [email protected]

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