You're at wit's end trying to motivate your employees. You've dangled carrots and threatened to use sticks. You've scheduled formal meetings and had informal water cooler conversations. But all your cajoling, praising and prodding still don't get you the high-performance results that you expect and need from your employees. They seem unwilling, and possibly incapable, of improving their game. Business guru Peter Drucker once asked a group of senior executives who were grappling with similar issues to identify the deadwood in their organization. The execs were quick to mention most of their direct reports. Drucker then asked, "were those people dead when you hired them or did they become deadwood?"
Talented people don't leave organizations. They quit working for bad bosses.
As author Joseph Raelin points out, "If you have to motivate 'your people' to get them to do something useful, you have already lost them. People are not necessarily standing around waiting for someone to motivate them.
They're already motivated."
So the problem may not be clueless and listless employees. Your leadership style may be the culprit. Whether you know it or not, you could be demotivating and disengaging your direct reports, who feel undervalued, underutilized and overwhelmed with low-value busywork.
Yes, you've attended the requisite training workshops and read all the right books about adopting a kinder and gentler approach to managing people. You try to be a better listener. You welcome feedback and keep an open door. You give pats on the back for a jobs well done. You encourage employees to be self-directed.
But old habits and paradigms are tough to change. Your subordinates can take the ball and run with it, provided you do the handoff, tell them where and how to run and keep coaching from the sidelines.
After all, it's your job to get out front and lead. Employees are supposed to follow. You chart the direction and set the goals. Your employees are supposed to work out the details.
You still have what Raelin would consider a conventional view of leadership.
By virtue of your position, you're the one and only leader. "Upon acquiring power, most leaders attempt to sustain or increase it," says Raelin. "Giving up or sharing power with others would be seen as abdicating one's responsibility."
You believe there can be only one leader, and for the time being, you're it. You have the business card and corner office with the window to prove it.
Besides, you've paid your dues. "It would weaken or at least confuse leadership to talk about having more than a single leader or to share leadership because there would not be a concrete end-role for making decisions and directing actions," Raelin says about the conventional view of leadership.
After all, leadership is about control. Employees are supposed to come to you for guidance and direction. If they have questions, you have all the answers. If they run into problems, you have all the solutions.
Raelin proposes an alternative approach called leaderful leadership. It starts from the premise that, given the scope and sheer number of challenges facing any organization, everyone needs to demonstrate leadership. You may be good at your job, but at some point, you're going to need help.
"For most problems in our era, two heads are better than one," says Raelin.
"We live in an age that is specialized but subjective, complex but relational. In such a world, we cannot rely on a coterie of subordinates to await their marching orders from detached bosses at the top who have sole possession on problem fixes, even across the remote corners of the organization."
Raelin says there are four tenets to leaderful leadership. It's concurrent, meaning that an organization will have more than one leader at the same time. People willingly and naturally share power.
It's collective, recognizing that many people in the organization can, and will, be leaders.
It's collaborative, so that everyone counts and every opinion and every contribution sincerely matter. And it's compassionate, so values are intrinsically linked with leadership and the dignity of others is preserved at all times.
Don't expect an overnight adoption of leaderful leadership.
The transition won't be easy. You'll need fundamental shifts both in the executive wing and on the front lines. As a manager, you'll play the part of facilitator and the champion of concepts such as shared leadership, teamwork and collaboration.
This isn't about abdicating your responsibilities and dumping work on your direct reports that you're only too happy to get off your desk.
Anyone who's attempted to launch or work in a self-directed team already knows the pitfalls that hamper the best of intentions. Employees will try to dodge and push back on the responsibilities you send their way. They'll test and challenge your commitment to leaderful leadership, to see if you're serious about walking the talk or if this is just another short-lived fad.
And you've got your work cut out for you if you've positioned yourself as the all-knowing, heroic leader.
"Subordinates are placed in a psychological hospital in which they can feel secure, knowing that the leader will take care of them," warns Raelin.
While it's an uncertain and painful journey, leaderful leadership ultimately creates an energized workforce that's committed rather than compliant.
This transformation has definite bottom-line benefits.
According to a Gallup survey, engaged workplaces are 50 per cent more likely to have lower turnover, 56 per cent more likely to have higher-than-average customer loyalty, 38 per cent more likely to have above-average productivity and 27 per cent more likely to report higher profitability.
Raelin does a good job of challenging conventional views on leadership and issuing a call to lead to everyone in an organization, regardless of where we may land on the org chart.