One evening at the dinner table my son asked me ‘do you give strict instructions and make your staff do things your way?’ I chuckled and responded ‘definitely, if I only want them to be as good as me and not better – I’m more experienced so I know more than they do.’
Of course my tongue was firmly in my cheek, but it brought on an interesting discussion about leadership.
My son recently started work in a new organisation but he’s not motivated by his job. His supervisor has told him to ‘just do things the way they’ve always been done’ to avoid getting into trouble with management. Despite this, my son tried to share ideas with his supervisor but was quickly brushed off. His supervisor wasn’t interested.
Does this sound familiar?
Have you been reprimanded for making a genuine mistake, or worse, demoted or sacked? Do you hesitate to do things differently even when you’re confident it would result in better outcomes? If your answer is ‘yes’ then you’re not alone.
Many of us have worked for numerous organisations in our careers and experienced all sorts of management styles and work cultures. Some of us have even been a manager. But being a manager, or ‘boss’, does not make one a leader.
We often hear the saying ‘lead by example’. But with organisations still practicing ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’ management style, what message are they sending to employees?
My observation is it often leads to employees ‘programmed’ to follow management instructions and rules. People afraid of the consequences of their actions if things go wrong. As a result, employees are not encouraged to innovate in the workplace, limiting their thinking to only be as good as their supervisors.
Leadership is different. It requires people to continually challenge the status quo of an organisation and its management style. Leaders often look for ways of doing things differently in search of better outcomes. Another critical element missing from good leadership is attentive listening. Many a times I have come across managers and senior staff giving instructions but not asking for opinions from each team member. It’s a form of unconscious bias where senior management discount the opinions of less experienced staff on the assumption they are unlikely to have any valuable ideas.
From my experience, when people are encouraged to challenge management practices without fear of reprimand, then miracles can happen. This ‘safe zone’ leads to innovation and motivation. Happier employees with higher morale working in collaboration with management and other employees. Employees with a strong sense of purpose in their roles and responsibilities. Quality of work is likely to improve, along with productivity. These all help to build trust among employees and management, and often lead to lower staff turnover.
All organisations have management with authority. But my son’s experience shows they do not necessarily have leaders.
Kay Yang Loke is Parbery Principal. An accountant and auditor with over 25 years’ experience, Kah Yang has held senior leadership roles and he ran his own accounting professional practice. He has a strong interest in leadership and organisational improvement.