I have noticed that there are some leaders who are able to hold challenging conversations easily and effortlessly, who are able to communicate difficult and often unpleasant news with equanimity, balance and effectiveness, who are able to ‘trade in the truth’ with themselves and with others; and there are some that can’t.
The ones that can are to be admired and indeed studied. Why is it they can do these things when others can’t? What is it that they are doing and why does it work? I guess the textbook answer would come down to emotional intelligence; the ability to understand the emotions that are at play with oneself and with others. Not only to understand those emotional dynamics but to be able to deal with them and manage them successfully.
At the moment, I am thinking less about the ‘how to’ of the situation and more about the cost of those that fail to have those conversations in an open, forthright and effective way. The Gallup Organisation surveys huge numbers of the working population, largely in the USA admittedly, but I am sure that the theme of their findings is as applicable this side of the pond as it is on the other. The regular Gallup newsletter is usually full of articles reporting the lamentable levels of employee engagement that their surveys constantly reveal.
People find it very difficult to engage with an organisation that doesn’t speak with them, that fails to communicate, that fails to trade in the truth. It makes little difference whether that organisation is two or two thousand people. The principle applies. Generally, people appreciate the openness and honesty that comes from trading in the truth more than they might dislike the truth itself. Trading in the truth with our people demands and implies a trust in them and faith in their abilities. It takes courage and it takes skill.
Gallup also regularly quantify the cost to businesses and to the nation of this poor engagement. One of the main concerns of the UK Government is about our generally poor productivity. Engagement, or lack of engagement has to be a major factor in this. The cost is huge. Not only the financial cost, but the cost to the human spirit; the cost to human potential. How engaged are your team, do you think? Do you know?
You don’t really need me or the Gallup organisation to tell you this. It is self-evident. But as one famous observer of human behaviour and full-time philosopher once said, “If adults don’t like their jobs they don’t go on strike. They just go in every day and do it really half-arsed”. Thank you for your wisdom Homer Simpson.