WHAT GOOD MANAGERS MUST DO
One morning at the airport, I overheard an employee talking about her new boss. “He’s a nice guy,” she said. “He makes me feel good about working here.”
Like many employees, this young woman is more influenced by her boss’s “soft” skills than his technical skills. His interpersonal skills were what mattered most: including his ability to communicate, motivate and showing genuine concern. These interpersonal traits influence people to decide to quit or stay. When a manager lacks these skills, or actively cultivates their hard-edged opposite, workers who have choices will jump ship or lower their productivity.
I experienced this myself when I went into the military service after college. My boss was a special person—a great boss. An experienced veteran and a former Special Forces medic, he was the type of person who always put the needs of others before his own.
One night I pulled duty that required me to stay up all night on New Year’s Eve. It was a night that seemed it would never end. I was tired and miserable. Saturday morning, when I still had several more hours to go, the phone rang. It was Joe, my boss. He asked if I had plans for lunch and that his wife had made something and wanted to bring it over to me. While I don’t remember what food they brought over, it was a meal I never forgot.
That one small act of kindness showed me he cared. It taught me more about leadership than all the degrees and diplomas hanging on my wall. It confirmed the truth of the old military saying, “If you take care of your troops, your troops will take care of you.” It’s still true today, no matter what kind of business you are in.
The older I get and the more I see reinforces that leadership techniques and fads change with the times, but caring about individuals holds constant. Caring for people can’t be faked or replaced.
On the other hand, no manager should be a pushover. A caring manager must also be respected. He or she must be able to generate results.
Soon after my boss treated me to that special meal, he gave me the worst chewing out I’d ever had. I deserved it and did something to deserve it. It hurt more—and made a deeper impression on me—because of the respect I had for him. When you respect someone, you always value what he or she has to say.
Businesses that do a good job selecting, training, and developing their managers will enjoy higher productivity and lower turnover. While it’s hard to measure the impact soft skills have on productivity, I strongly believe an employee who feels good about working for a company or a boss will want to contribute much more than the minimum acceptable level.
In the years I led people, I never met an “average” worker—only people I saw the potential to become much better. I think it was General Omar Bradley who said, “There are no such thing as bad soldiers, only bad leaders.”
Sure–the workplace has its share of problematic and difficult to manage individuals. There are many bad managers. But what I notice is good managers are able to transform difficult people into better people. Exceptional workers have exceptional managers as their leaders. The only difference between the two groups is the quality of the leader.
I imagine my first boss saw me as an “average” individual with a short attention span, high maintenance, inexperienced, and scattered brained. Fortunately for me, he took the time to train and develop me, even though it often frustrated him. He was a true leader. He knew that leadership of people is a transformation process, and with the right tools and a willing attitude, he could make the transformation happen.
Metin Colpan, a PhD in organic chemistry and chemical engineering from Darnstadt Institute of Technology and president of the Dutch biotech firm Qiagen NV, is a leader who cares.
He writes thank-you notes by pen—a thoughtful, caring gesture in today’s high-tech world.
He shares his dreams with his associates in daily talks with people at all levels of the company and monthly large-group lunches. He shares his plans and vision for the future, and lets people know how their efforts help contribute to society.
He offers associates a stock option plan so everyone can share in the success of the company.
He brings people in from the outside to get fresh perspectives and ideas—which coincidentally prevents company executives from thinking they are “extremely smart and know everything.”
Instead of micromanaging, he allows workers to make mistakes. He knows that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. Of course, he doesn’t entirely ignore mistakes, but meets with the individual to review what has been learned so both can move on.
Colpan’s personal and caring leadership generates results. Sales in this firm reached $74 million in 1997. Between 1990-1997 Qiagen’s earnings grew by an average of 74 percent a year.
Three Comments: What Employees Want from Their Managers
“Better and more frequent feedback sessions with each employee. Our leadership is good and does care, but the pressures of their day make them less effective communicators than would be possible in a “do less” workplace. Everyone here works hard, but the work never stops and so some very good and great young people reach a saturation point and begin to look for a job with less demanding hours and stress.”
I’m still struggling with the lack of “alleged” leadership skills in many executives. How do they achieve executive positions? Why don’t they seek out training to develop/enhance their leadership skills? Why do they assume that their subordinates need training but they don’t? What actually is the essence of leadership? How can we teach executives to think strategically, to plan, to envision, and to leave operational decisions to managers?
“Stop taking away benefits, etc. and train managers better. Managers of the past continue to do the same things, never try anything new or are not willing to do the extra work to improve matters. Often poor performance is addressed, if at all, over and over again without any consequences. Or worse, addressed once and the person are transferred to another position. This sends a very bad message.”
USING ASSESSMENTS TO HIRE AND DEVELOP TOP TALENT
The most important aspect of any business is recruiting, selecting, and retaining top people. Research shows those organizations that spend more time recruiting and developing high-caliber people earn 22% higher return to shareholders than their industry peers.
Ponder for a moment the last person you hired or promoted. Did they work out as intended? Or did they turn into somebody totally unlike what you thought?
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