A particular individual contributor I know is constantly hammering her manger to know when she will be promoted to manager. It is a consistent cry, “I’m ready to be promoted to manager, why won’t you promote me?” The thing is that this individual is a pretty good individual contributor. Her work is trust worthy, she delivers work on time, and gets along well with everyone. So, what’s the problem you might ask? Why not promote her to manager? Here is an example of the reason for her manager’s reluctance. A client decided to in-source some work. The result was fewer hours of work for her business unit, and a negative impact to employees. When the business asked this individual for counsel on the process of moving through this transition, her first response was, “Well, since I didn’t know anything about this, I can’t tell you.” Recently I needed some records for reference in a legal matter. I called on this individual to provide me her records. She didn’t quite understand the urgency which resulted in a fire drill, so to speak. When I explained that I was in the midst of a legal discussion, her first comment was, “I hope it is not because of something I did.” Here is the problem. This individual sees herself as a victim. Nothing is her fault, and everything is her fault. She thinks the world revolves around her. Things are done to her. She feels no sense of ownership, no thought of providing a solution.
So, what’s the problem? Her work is reliable. She’s friendly and enjoyable. The problem is that she is good at managing processes but she is does not exhibit the qualities that this business has decided are crucial to the success of its people leaders. How do you determine whether or not someone exhibits desirable leadership behaviors? You get out and observe. Leave your office. Sit in on manager staff meetings. Observe leadership during meetings. Talk with their direct reports and peers. Observation is the key to understanding competency in leadership behaviors. And why are leadership behaviors so important, you might ask? Employee engagement is one important answer.
Why Should We Care?
A 2005 study by the Gallup organization found that disengaged employees cost American companies between $250 and $350 billion a year. (BlessingWhite. 2008. The state of employment engagement – 2008: North American overview. Princeton, NJ) High employee engagement increases employer return on investment on human capital. An engaged employee is loyal, invested, more innovative, willing to take risks. My experience has tested and proven that one of the most effective ways to positively impact engagement is to improve the employee value proposition. And, one of the most significant pillars in that employee value proposition is the relationship with their manager. So, given these proven factors, it follows that the behaviors of people leaders are foundational to the employee value proposition, and thus impact return on investment in human capital.
Just What Does Leadership Look Like?
Okay, now that we’ve taken a scholastic look at this, let’s talk about the practical. Employees just are not going to go beyond robotic movement to emotional investment in success of the organization unless they believe their leaders truly care. What leadership behaviors convey this message? Scads of employees have recently shared this list of desirable leadership traits with me:
- Convey a vision
- Foster an environment of innovation
- Trust your team
- Hold people accountable
- Inspire others
Measure Leadership Behaviors
To increase leadership skills in your organization, I recommend a 6 – step structured process:
- Define desirable leadership behaviors
- Articulate what each behaviors looks like
- Define how you will identify the behavior
- Define what the behavior looks like demonstrated in three specific phases: developing state, maturing state, and sustainable state
- Grade leaders on their progress, giving a current state value and rating through observation of demonstrated behaviors as part of your management routine at a defined cadence
- Hold leaders accountable to changing and developing in the defined desirable behaviors through these three phases. Provide opportunities for leaders to develop up, or out.
No doubt about it, the investment in time to work through this structure takes time and energy. But it is an investment, and with applied rigor you will experience a return of significant proportion.
Now, you know this blog is about applying Biblical principles to practical 21st century leadership. So let’s look at a Biblical model of what it looks like to hold leaders accountable to demonstrate observable desirable traits. From the historical account in 2 Kings chapter 5 Elisha had a team member, Gehazi, who defied his orders and practiced dishonesty. The consequence was that Gehazi ended up with leprosy. Of course, in 21st century America we don’t experience the physical ailment of leprosy. However, we do experience loss of credibility. Once a leader has exhibited behaviors that result in a loss of credibility and trust, they have leprosy; in a metaphorical sense. Folks just won’t follow these leaders any more. They’re no longer effective. They never move from the developing to the sustained phase of maturity in leadership.
Back to this individual contributor bent on promotion without an equal willingness to invest in herself relative to developing leadership skills. Until she understands the difference between managing processes and leading the way, we will be happy to maintain her contribution as a reliable tactical individual contributor. It is her choice.