Are You the Only One Thinking You’re a Good Leader?

I know I am a good manager… I have managed numerous teams throughout my career. I know leadership.

With that statement, her eyes rolled. This was a conversation with one of my coaching clients the other day. Her manager boasts that he is LEADERSHIP. At every opportunity, he declares his prowess on the leadership scale.

When you have to remind people that you are a good leader, it says more about you trying to convince yourself than your audience. Your audience, especially if they work with you, know the real deal. I had a boss at one time who was a member of Mensa. Regardless of the bent of the conversation, he would somehow find a way to drop that membership into the conversation. Eyes rolled.

Leaders as bad actors

Teams today are suffering from characters playing the role of leader. They have this script and they come to work everyday trying to play a role. This script could have come from anyplace: a bad boss in their past, some fictional character, etc. With script in hand and chest stuck out, they “lead” their team, reveling in their self-deceiving glory. With turnover at an all time high, engagement scores at rock bottom, are all these the result of a bad leadership script?

If your top leadership falls into this category, the cascade is like a waterfall; it affects the entire workforce.

Bad bosses are everywhere

Bad bosses are common in the American workforce.  A study by Life Meets Work found 56% of American workers describe their boss as toxic. Two out of five American workers rate their boss as “bad.” Gallup’s State of the American Manager says, “18% of current managers have the high talent required of their role, while 82% do not have high talent.” The Gallup report also found found that one in two employees have left a job “to get away from their manager at some point in their career.”

While these are American figures, I am sure that this translate globally, as the vast majority of my work is focused on the APAC region as well as Africa and Europe. According to my clients, the majority of them are dealing with this type of leader.

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If there was such a thing as an organizational national emergency, this would be it. This is why I will often review a company website to see what words they have (probably) paid someone to come up with. The “mission,” “core values,” etc. should have to be verified and voted on by employees to see whether they stand up to the culture within. Think about it: hose words were created in possibly the most non-creative, coldest space inside an organization — the dreaded conference room.

Prescription for  an engaged workplace

We can do better. If you are a senior leader, use one of my time-trusted formulas for connecting to the organization which is Management by Walking Around (MBWA). At least once a day get up and walk around the floor and get to know your people. At first, you may feel awkward, which, by the way, is a sign that you will need to do it more. Your employees may have a deer-in-the-headlights reaction as they see you coming. Regardless of the reaction, continue doing it.

One caveat though is that on these listening tours, Shut Up and Listen. My father would always tell me that you can learn a lot being quite and listening for a change.

Good luck with your most precious asset.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.