No matter how much brand new ‘leadership theory’ is developed every year, simple things continue to make the difference between being effective and yelling into the wind. In particular, one very human behaviour demands your urgent attention if you’re going to create an engaged workforce …
It’s human nature to be inconsistent. We tut tut at other people’s behaviour while doing a version of it ourselves, and we cut our kids a ton of slack for their lousy manners while wondering if our neighbours can possibly know the first thing about how to raise polite children.
We do these things not because we’re specifically hypocritical, but because we see things through different coloured lenses tainted by our own biases. Each one of us tends to genuinely believe we live on the moral high ground. That’s just being human.
You can regularly make a fool of yourself however, if you don’t stop every now and then and examine the extent to which you are allowing subjectivity, which is inherently unchallenging and safe, to become a zombie parasite driving your thoughts.
And in fact, a very big part of the journey to real leadership is learning to be deliberately objective.
Deliberately objective, note. It’s one of the greatest human qualities, and one that requires work and conscious effort. It’s also a mighty weapon in the quest for employee engagement.
You see, the challenge we face without a deliberate effort to be objective is that we tend to praise good things we see in people we like, and shrug off the ones we see in people we don’t. We let the mistakes of our favourites slip by without comment, but lash out at those we aren’t all that keen on.
I don’t think it is your job as a leader to like all your people equally; I don’t think that’s possible. It is however your job to judge them all in precisely the same way.
That means setting rules not for people, but for activities, actions, behaviours and the like. If you praise behaviour in one person, you must praise the same behaviour consistently in all people at all times. The same goes for criticism.
A requirement for any leader who is hoping to be effective therefore, is to clearly identify the things your people do that are worthy of comment, and develop a response. An overachievement of X gets met with a ‘well done’ email. An effusive customer comment earns a live read to all colleagues. Failure to hit target gets the same conversation for the top performer and the bottom performer (this only works if your intention in all interactions is to objectively look for a positive outcome). That may sound cold and humourless, but it must be clear by now that frequency of feedback is a big motivator and having a pat on the back can go a long way for many employees to improving their day.
With objectivity comes predictability and trust; one of the golden hallmarks of engaged organisations. It’s not a choice; it’s a requirement.