It is something that most of us have experienced in our lives at some point or another. Being engaged and satisfied in a job before a new senior hire is brought in who completely changes the culture of a workplace and often that is not for the better. It is certainly something we are seeing for people who work under the UK’s current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, with a significant number of cabinet members, government ministers and MPs who have either resigned from their position, left the Conservative party or have had the whip removed (in effect being sacked from the party, a move that Boris Johnson has employed on over 20 members of the party for opposing his No-Deal Brexit strategy).
The result? One of the most turbulent 10 days the UK government has seen in a long while which has had a negative impact on growth and as the global eyes lose confidence in the country’s ability to operate in a manner that improves our economic standing in the market.
Whilst a big part of this is about job satisfaction, a bigger part from my analysis is about our values. People are drawn to employers for a number of reasons. Brand perception of the organisation, personal benefits (in terms of salary, perks, career progression) but a growing number of people (millennials especially) are drawn to the values and the mission of companies with millennials stating they would work for a up to a 34% lower salary for an organisation they aligned according to a survey by the insurer MetLife with and IBM’s workforce reporting an 80% a more positive employee experience when the work they undertake is meaningful and in line with the organisation’s values. And these values will often come from the leadership of the company. So getting the right leaders into the workplace is critical for the success of it.
I was recently asked to speak at a school to help 16-18 year olds understand the different styles of leadership and what some of the trends that we are seeing organisations seeking. It got me thinking in terms back to one of my earlier pieces which talked about are we focused on the wrong things when we select people to join our organisations? If I look at some of the issues the UK is currently facing, I’d back my initial thoughts and really challenge us as a leadership community to think about recruiting senior people differently. It’s not just about skills, or experience. What someone achieves in one work environment is no guarantee that they will replicate it in their new one. Because the environment can be so different.
So what are the things we can do to be better leaders or look for in others when recruiting them?
1. Attitudes, values and drivers: Looking at the data above, more people are drawn to companies for their values now more than ever before. And whilst there are so many factions and faults in our wider society, this is going to be even more imperative going forwards. Therefore, look for signs in your future leaders which might not align with the values of your current organisation and the workforce’s values. The impact this can have to the overall culture can be hugely detrimental. With 21% of CEOs in the US being labelled as psychopaths (not even taking into account the milder form being those with sociopathic tendencies) compared to 1% of the overall population, how will this affect the well being of your employees when these leaders display behaviours such as a disproportionate level of self-importance, compulsively lying or having a lack of remorse?
2. Be authentically you: I often try and find simple ways to explain things. From my analysis, the UK’s current Prime Minister is in power because the previous leader, Theresa May took a position that in effect, she didn’t believe in. I cannot imagine someone working for an animal rights organisation to then go on to take a senior role at a pharmaceutical company or cosmetics company that conducts cruelty on animals. Even if that scenario did play out, their internal credibility with stakeholders would be minimal. That buy-in and sponsorship from peers and colleagues are so critical in order for the stewardship of an organisation to be effective. If you hire a leader who doesn’t believe in what your purpose is, it is unlikely that they will be able to convince themselves or the vision, let alone others.
In addition to this, as we move to a world of automation in the workplace, the one thing that differentiates us in a crowded marketplace is us. How can you use what makes you uniquely you to your advantage as a leader? Is it demonstrating your altruism and empathy volunteering with a charity? Or is it talking about your passion for sport or music?
3. Can you/they listen?: One of the greatest criticisms I have is that so many leaders who are ineffective just aren’t listening. If we look at Boris Johnson, he has removed those in his party who oppose his vision instead of listening to the genuine concerns they have. This isn’t about whether I believe Brexit is right or wrong, but if we cannot listen to the opposition, we truly risk disengaging those we lead, and the results can be catastrophic. There is a real fear presently that a premier who chooses to suspend Parliament in one of the most critical times for the future of their country takes us into a place of dictatorship or autocracy, which has rarely produced positive outputs for societies. Different people will always need different needs and values to be met, but it is much easier to know what those needs are if we listen to their voice.
In order for us to be the best we can be as employees, organisations and citizens, we need to have good people around us. A huge part of this is that leadership is so influential. I remember working for an organisation where the CEO created a culture of stretch targets and empowered various areas in the business to be innovative in order to generate new income streams and save on operational costs. However, as the leadership team under them were financially compensated based on the effectiveness, one or two of the new leaders took the initiative to prove themselves. In my area of the business which had historically been a cash cow with little investment, the new leader decided to cut the workforce by over 30% because of the cost saving it would create. This can be an effective method of improving the bottom line. But the major problem was the leader refused to listen when his team spoke up about the current state of the business and not having created alternative solutions for customers to utilise before this restructure was conducted. The result? Huge dissatisfaction from both customers and the remaining staff, decreased morale, people choosing to leave on top of those who were made redundant and a loss of market share when customers sought alternative providers.
This world is becoming more and more polarised. We need leadership that unites people instead of creates barriers. People are increasingly looking to political leaders such as Justin Trudeau and Jacinda Arden as role models who have displayed compassion and inclusion in their leadership styles and are being turned off by the autocratic, self-serving leadership styles of Trump and Putin. We need to be doing this more in our workplaces too. We have to start holding our leadership to account. As employees, as board members, as customers and clients. It is only when we challenge the inequalities in our lives that we can ever hope to see the change we want to see. Let’s be the leaders we want to be at all levels in our places of work and our society on the whole.