Lessons for Leaders from the People Who Matter (Followers)

February 20, 2012

Tracy Killen John Lewis PartnershipAn international report, Lessons for Leaders from the People Who Matter, finds two thirds of employees found their line managers ineffective, and a half were rated as lacking empathy. In contrast, Tracey Killen of the John Lewis Partnership (pictured above) suggests a way of improving matters.

The survey for DDI [Development Dimensions International] by Harris International pollsters was reported in HR Magazine :

Simon Mitchell, director at DDI UK and one of the report authors, said: “We wanted to hear how the customers of leaders themselves saw their managers and bosses. These findings should be of enormous concern to any business. They show that leaders are failing in their obligation to employees and, therefore, their organisation. The consequences of managers and bosses with poor leadership skills are enormous, and the impact good leaders have in terms of employee motivation and productivity are significant.”

The report found one in three respondents (34%) only sometimes or never consider their leader to be effective, and over a third (37%) are only sometimes or never motivated to give their best by their leader.
The survey also found nearly half (45%) of respondents think they could be more effective than their manager, but only 46% would actually want to. Respondents cited the additional stress, responsibility and pressure as reasons for staying where they were. This has implications for the future supply of leaders.

Mitchell continues, “Workers report that managers fail to ask for their ideas and input, are poor at work related conversations and do not provide sufficient feedback on their performance, so it’s no wonder employee engagement levels are low. Leaders remain stubbornly poor at these fundamental basics of good leadership that have little to do with the current challenging business climate. It’s important that organisations equip the people managing their workforce with these basic leadership essentials, and that managers are aware of their own blind spots in these areas. The good news for businesses and employees alike is that many of these leadership skills can be learnt.”

The Good News

The good news expressed in the news story supports the views held by those who believe in leadership development. It leaves open the vital questions of the nature of those ‘fundamental basics of good leadership’,how to ‘equip the people managing their workforce with these basic leadership essentials’,how to ‘raise [managers’ awareness] of their own blind spots in these areas’,and how ‘many of these leadership skills can be learnt’.

The Dilemmas

The dilemmas for business are clear. Many leaders today are appointed after some form of appraisal. DDI, authors of the report, are themselves advocates of the battery of assessment methods available to identify leaders (and, as its corporate name suggests, to develop their potential). One of the oldest leadership dilemmas is whether leaders are born or made. The report suggests they can be identified (‘born’) and developed ‘made’. The evidence suggests also that for the most-part that leaders are too often failing to show either natural or developed leadership capabilities.

To go more deeply

Of interest is the approach followed by John Lewis partnership through which HR is placed more centrally with corporate operations in this highly successful and unusually democratic organization. The image above is of Tracy Killen, HR director of John Lewis Partnership. The link outlines the way in which John Lewis integrates HR with the planning and operations of the company.

See also Training Industry’s list of top 20 leadership training companies (which includes DDI).


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