Assertive-respectful Leaders “Finish First” with Employee Engagement

April 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

They say nice guys may finish last but aggressive-controlling managers finish last on employee engagement.  Assertive-respectful managers finish first in long-term performance and employee engagement.

At a recent leadership seminar one of the participants came in 20 minutes late.  I greeted him politely and he grunted without looking at me.  He was clearly disengaged.  At the break I called him aside and asked him if he wanted to call his manager and ask permission to leave the seminar because he clearly did not want to be there.  He told me he had been told to attend on his day off without pay and he didn’t think he needed the training.  His boss was an aggressive-controlling micromanager who believes results come from employees being told what to do. 

Even though I could understand why he demonstrated this poor behavior he still wasted my time and the time of everyone else in the seminar. He also damaged my credibility as the seminar leader and damaged my ability to transfer the knowledge and skills I was hired to deliver.  What was the root cause?  His manager’s behavior was a major contributor. The participant stayed in the seminar but it clearly was not going to get much from the training because of his attitude.   The same attitude his aggressive-controlling manager influenced.

Aggressive-controlling managers are not always mean managers yet they create unintended negative consequences with their behaviors.  The seminar participant’s manager will probably never know he demonstrated poor attitude and wasted everyone’s time in the seminar.

Many aggressive-controlling managers justify their behavior because they see unengaged employees.  They remain unaware of how their behavior actually could be the cause of the disengagement.  I want to replace aggressive-controlling behavior with assertive-respectful behavior because the results will be at least as good (if not better) and the unintended negative consequences will be significantly reduced.  This requires a change in culture which must start from the top.  Culture change is challenging and can take time. But any leader can start to make the shift right now by simply managing agreements.

Agreements are the building blocks of organization results.  Just as the atom is the building block of life, agreements form the foundation for every successful organization.  If the agreements in an organization are weak the results will suffer. 

Agreements are specific measureable and time sensitive tasks that employees perform to accomplish a goal.  Every leader works hard to align their organization around strategy.  I like to describe this as the flow of action. 

The Flow of Action: Vision   –   Strategy   –    Goals    –   Processes   –    Agreements

We start with the vision of the organization.  We then form a strategy to move us toward the vision.  The strategy requires goals or objectives.  Goals are accomplishments along the way toward achieving the strategy.  Goal accomplishment requires processes which will help achieve the goal.  Nothing can be achieved without a process.  Processes are a collection of agreements (tasks that are specific, measurable and time sensitive).

Here is an example.   A technology company wants to be the best in its domain (the vision).  Its strategy is to provide data storage services to the health care industry (strategy).    The company set a goal to obtain 10 new customers by the end of the year.  They created a sales process.  The sales engineers where asked to make an agreement to make 20 new calls to potential customers each working day.   

Unless the calls are made the entire system breaks down because the strategy is not implemented and the ability to reach the vision is delayed. 

The assertive-respectful manager works with employees to clarify each level of the Flow of Action.  Every employee then understands each level and understands why and how the levels are interdependent when this is done.   When the manager asks the employee to make an agreement he/she is much more likely and willing to do so without resistance.  The aggressive-controlling managers just say “do it!”    The assertive-respectful manager asks, “Are you willing to make this agreement?”

The employee is more engaged because he/she has a choice to either do the agreement or not.  If they can’t keep the agreement(s) they are encouraged to speak up and discuss the agreement with the manager.  The employee and manager can negotiate a different agreement the employee is more confident in keeping.  Once the agreement is made the employee is expected to complete it on time.  Results are improved because the employee is more likely to keep the agreement and is expected to communicate if something changes causing them to miss the agreement date.  The unintended negative consequences are avoided because the employee is empowered and willingly engaged in the activities and tasks.  They are not told to do it by an aggressive-controlling and unconscious manager. 

The aggressive-controlling manager thrives on chaos and solving problems.  The assertive-respectful manager wants to avoid chaos and works with his/her people to clarify the Flow of Action.  What if the seminar attendee was first asked to make an agreement to attend the seminar?  What if he/she was able to express concern about attending on their day off?  What is the assertive-respectful manager was able to explain why it was so critical for the employee to attend?  Would this have made a difference in the attitude?  Would this have caused the seminar attendee to get more out of the seminar?  Would his/her performance improved?  Would the strategy been implemented more quickly?  Would the vision be reached more quickly?  We will never know but what do you think?

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