Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?!

Big Bad WolfHuman Capital (HC) magazine recently published an article called ‘Bosses too threatening for modern employees’.  Intrigued by the title I read on and learned that in a recent survey of 1200 UK employees almost half (48%) of the respondents reported feeling “actively threatened” by their leaders.  That’s a staggering reflection of the environments these people are working in.

Without reading the full research report I can only guess at the precise meaning of ‘threatened’; however I think it’s safe to assume included are a range of highly stressful emotions.  Contemplate the enormity of the findings for a moment; close to half the people surveyed work for a leader they feel threated by on some level.  That is they fear for their mental, emotional or physical wellbeing – and perhaps in some cases all three.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss the significance of these findings because only 1200 people participated or the survey was conducted only in the UK. Countless studies have provided equally significant insight into the lack of trust, happiness and engagement in organisations due to poor management behaviors.  My own experiences support these findings; all too often I observe aggression or hostility from people managers.  Regularly people share their stories of being bullied, harassed and discriminated against. Not only is their happiness and success at work undermined but also the quality of their lives.

The HC magazine article goes on to suggest that the depressed economic climate might be to blame for the survey findings. “[Bosses] are under immense pressure to make their organizations leaner, while also improving performance”.   While it’s reasonable to suggest the challenges of leadership can be stressful, being stressed is no excuse for treating people badly.  Tough times often do call for tough measures; however it’s not what leaders need to do that matters as much as how they go about it.

Mean BossTrust and respect are the foundations of any successful relationship, including between a manager and their team.  Adopting a threatening or aggressive approach unquestionably undermines both and profoundly impacts upon a leaders ability to influence engagement and ultimately performance.

Many of the leaders I observe struggling to earn the trust and respect of their team are in fact well intentioned.   That is, while they have a genuine desire to build strong relationships with their team their approach undermines their own efforts. Among the most common behaviors I observe from managers who struggle to build trusting and respectful relationships with their team include:

  • Directing: being overly prescriptive with an absence of appropriate consultation
  • Micromanaging: directing what people do and how they go about it
  • Controlling: unreasonable monitoring and scrutinizing of results
  • Demanding: unreasonably holding people accountable to unrealistic expectations
  • Overlooking: being dismissive or unappreciative of contributions made
  • Hiding: a lack of visibility often due to working behind closed doors
  • Distancing: failing to get close to or actively engage with people

Equally significant contributors are:

  • Lack of compassion: failing to demonstrate concern for others
  • Being inconsiderate; failing to anticipate or recognize adverse impacts on others
  • Poor communication; particularly relating to impacts of change
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