Old-fashioned values of fairness and courtesy are important
Managers are obsessed with one question: how do I become a good leader? Hundreds of articles have been written on the subject. The truth is, being a good leader is much closer to home than you think. But what characteristics really matter?
To find out, don't ask a leader - ask those they are leading.
The 2011 edition of our Great New Zealand Employment Survey gave a surprising answer. It turns out that workers are not really looking for a visionary; the overwhelming majority of employees surveyed saw the ideal leader as someone who treated them consistently, fairly and with respect. A leader, they said, should be someone who demonstrates openness and honesty, and supports and encourages their team members to do their best.
In short, good leadership requires authenticity.
You don't have to be a fantastic orator - really, all you have to do is act with good old-fashioned human courtesy.
There is a significant gap, however, between what employees are looking for in leadership and what they are actually experiencing. Just over half of the respondents to the survey felt they were being treated consistently, fairly and with respect; and only half said their manager demonstrated openness and honesty.
Slightly more, 66 per cent, said their leaders supported and encouraged their team members. What can we do to bridge this gap?
If you recognise people for their work, but don't treat them fairly and consistently, that recognition will go to waste. Fairness is a basic human drive based on desiring the most from any situation. When employees perceive something as unfair they begin to feel de-motivated.
Sometimes in business even if you're not treating people unfairly, you have to think carefully about how what you do is received; perception is reality.
For example, you have an employee who leaves work early because of a family commitment. She works late the day before to make up the hours, but her colleagues don't see that. When someone else wants to leave early themselves and gets pulled up for it, they perceive that as being treated unfairly.
In this case when leaders are seen to be giving one employee special treatment over others, they need to explain the reason to the rest of the team.
Stephen Drain, the director of the AUT Centre for Innovative Leadership, says leaders who role-model behaviours and norms provide the most powerful guide for team behaviours and building trust quickly.
"Expectations that become cultural norms through a trusting team are more sustainable than any rule or guideline imposed."
Stephen also says that leaders need to remember that the more senior their role, the closer they will be watched, but paradoxically they will receive less direct feedback.
Balancing the needs of the business and those of your team requires care and sensitivity to people's individuals needs. But once you get the balance right, you will find that there really are no secrets to being a great leader.
Jenni Miller is head of consulting, people and organisational development at Clarian Human Resources
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