I would be hard pressed to identify anything as critical to the success of an organization as leadership. I have spoken with many colleagues who work for companies where there is a definite void in positive leadership. When that happens, it is not unusual to see the following:
1. Lack of vision: There is no clear vision for the organization and long-term goals are not considered. Generally, there is no picture of what success looks like. In well run organizations, employees respond when a leader paints a compelling picture of what the future holds when everyone meets their objectives. Even front line, hourly employees want to know they are part of something bigger than just showing up to punch the clock each day.
2. No accountability: For most companies, the highest single expense is labor cost. Wouldn’t you want to ensure that you are getting the most out of your largest investment? I have witnessed organizations that are trying to reduce small expense categories while they keep high dollar resources on the payroll who are not contributing or meeting their objectives. One of the hardest facets of leadership is knowing when to make hard decisions and send a team member on to their next career stop.
3. Departmental silos: One of the most common challenges facing any organization is getting different departments to work together towards a common goal. A senior leader is the common thread that must pull the various sub-teams together. I have seen some poor leaders think it is a good strategy to encourage competition between the departments instead of building a “one company” culture. A good leader has the ability to bring the teams together to realize they are all interdependent and should support each other.
4. High turnover: A sure sign of a lack of leadership is a high level of turnover at the company. One of the key responsibilities for a CEO or other senior leader is to create a positive culture where employees actually want to come to work each day. Pay is important, but there are a lot of studies that point to the sense of family or positive work environment that will influence how long an employee stays at a company.
5. Poor customer service: The person who ultimately suffers when a leader is not doing their job is the end customer. It is almost impossible for an employee to have a positive attitude and provide exceptional customer service when they do not feel supported by their leadership. The best leaders understand the concept of “servant leadership” and check their egos at the door.
6. Lack of engagement: A good friend, Lee Colan, said “If you put fences around people, you get sheep.” Engage your employees in delivering excellent service. They are your eyes and ears when listening to your customers and your hands and feet when serving them. A disengaged employee can cost your business in lost productivity and even customers who leave because of how they were treated by an employee who had mentally quit, but are still on your payroll.
An Example of Positive Leadership
What ultimately led to me writing this blog topic was the stark contrast of the above behaviors when compared to a current client. At a very well run organization, top leadership understands the importance of their role to creating a great working environment. I have had the privilege of working with the leadership team at AmerisourceBergen for the past six months. The top leadership in the Information Technology department manage hundreds of associates in a very difficult area: ensuring the stability of critical systems and processes so that the rest of the multi-billion-dollar enterprise can serve their end customers every day.
Accountability is critical, yet they are able to hold team members accountable while still creating a positive work environment. It could be easy for leadership to get caught up in meetings and discussions with other leaders and lose sight of the end customer, but these leaders personally demonstrate the importance of customer service and demand the same from their employees.
The work environment for an enterprise IT organization can be stressful, but their leadership focuses on creating a positive culture where even front line team members are appreciated for a job well done. In other clients, there are many leaders who take themselves way too seriously and do not relate to their employees and customers in a human way. This can lead to a stressful environment and many of the issues listed above.
Most companies share common challenges and stresses. But, there is a HUGE difference in how a company performs based on the type of culture created by senior leadership. If you are a leader, don’t get caught up in the daily grind of completing only your assigned duties. I’ve found good leaders remember that they are uniquely positioned to positively impact the work environment for all their associates. Remember, the highest calling of leadership is the development of people!