The time of New Leadership has come! Or hasn’t it?

Guest contribution by | 16.07.2020 | Project management | 0 comments

The terms are no longer new: emotional intelligence, agile leadership, empathy, appreciation, social competence. When people talk about leadership nowadays, the “soft skills” can no longer be neglected. The turning point in leadership is just around the corner. Is that really so? If we take a closer look, we see that there is still a lot to do and that the desire for emotional leadership has not yet been generally fulfilled. But do we really need it? What are the competencies that the leaders of tomorrow should really bring with them to be successful? We speak plain language today and distinguish between dream and reality. How does leadership work today and what urgently needs to change?

Why do we need a change in leadership?

For almost 20 years Gallup has been researching the degree of emotional attachment of employees in Germany. To what extent is the German employee bound to his company? Who is satisfied, who works only by the book and what is behind it?

According to the 2019 study:

  • 15% of employees in Germany feel emotionally attached to their company.
  • 69 % hardly feel bound to the company at all. Once a better offer is on the table, they would definitely consider leaving the company.
  • 16% do not feel any commitment at all and have actually quit the company internally …

A sad truth that has hardly changed over the years. The figures remain very comparable over the years. So is it in our nature not to get involved, or what is really behind it?

Bad management is the reason for fluctuation

What the study also shows: Emotionally unattached employees are more likely to change employers. The result: high fluctuation in the company.

But what is the reason for the employee leaving the company in the end? This was investigated in the Talents & Trends survey by Rundstedt¹ and it was shown that employees attach particular importance to the right working atmosphere: A lack of chemistry (65%) and the absence of a constructive feedback culture (58%) are cited as important reasons for leaving the company.

What if the leadership was different?

It becomes very exciting when we compare the behaviour of employees with high retention with that of employees with low retention. The Gallup study of 2019 shows that employees with high loyalty

  • have 70% fewer accidents at work,
  • are 41% less absent and
  • 17% more productive.

Well, if I were CEO, I would want people like that on staff.

Oh yes: and if it’s all about profitability in the end, the results could also be an eye opener: Companies with highly emotionally engaged employees beat their competitors in earnings per share by 147 percent!²

What is New Leadership?

The Gallup study showed us: Employees with high retention rates are more productive, more present, more motivated, and the reason why an employee does not feel bound to the company is very often “the leader”. Conclusion: We need other bosses.

Actually, real commitment comes from relationships and emotions: The bond to a person is strong, the bond to an object or an abstract concept or organisation is much more difficult to grasp. You can certainly find similar work in another company, but not the same people. Which in this case is either an advantage or a disadvantage. The manager’s goal: to create a working atmosphere that binds people emotionally.

Leadership in the VUCA world.

It is also important to note that the world of work has changed considerably, which has also shifted the demands on employees and managers. We live in the VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).

Digitalisation and the Internet have made some activities superfluous, and much can be automated. You have to adapt quickly, be able to learn and be flexible. It often happens that you start with operational activities in a company, but change comes very quickly, and in order to be able to develop, personnel responsibility comes very quickly. Manager from one day to the next …

But who learned how leadership works at university? And – it has to happen quickly. You have to meet expectations and achieve goals. The simplest way: just give orders. That worked well yesterday. Today, it can happen that employees allow it at the beginning, until they inwardly and then actually quit. And the game goes on: new employees come into the game and have to be quickly trained and perform well before they really understand how to play the game in this new environment. Welcome to the VUCA world. The situation is not so satisfying for anyone. But very often there is no long-term thinking at this point, it’s just a matter of filling the gap, and today’s result seems to count for more than the opportunity to perform better in the long run.

But at this point, what would work better, retain employees more, reduce staff turnover and bring more peace of mind?

From leadership with compulsion to emotional leadership: just a dream?

In leadership with compulsion, the task is in the foreground. It is all about WHAT to do. WHO does not matter. The main thing is that it happens without resistance. You have to do this and that, period, end, finish.

With such a management style you get WHAT you want. At least for a while. Because nowadays the whip doesn’t work anymore. What do you want to do if the employee says “no” or just doesn’t do it? Fire him? Yeah, but it takes time. And then rehire, train, force, and it starts all over again. Congratulations, you’ve harvested frustration and anger. And the job is still not done.

Focus on people and their needs

The focus is no longer WHAT to do, but WHO to do it. The same task is communicated differently depending on the employee. The employee is very insecure and has a need for security? One sets a schedule and intermediate steps and he knows exactly what he has to do. You give the employee courage and tell him that he can do it and that you support him.

The other employee needs flexibility and challenge: you give him a rough framework within which he can move freely. He can decide when to complete the task as long as it is completed by day X at time Y.

How do you find out needs? You listen a lot. You get to know the personalities of people. You write them down. The employee is unique and you recognise and appreciate this.

Appreciation

Which is more important: salary or appreciation?

According to Statista, poor pay is also a major reason why workers quit their jobs today.³ 

Warum kündigen Beschäftige?

But it’s like chicken and egg: what came first? Why is the situation tilting? And is perhaps poor pay nothing more than a sign of a lack of appreciation for work done? “My work has no value.” Maybe it’s not that you need more money, maybe you expect more appreciation for your work?

How does appreciation go? Actually, it’s quite simple. To say thank you. And you see appreciation as a prerequisite for a job well done, not a reward.

But be careful: Appreciation always comes in a context: it’s not about giving praise and thanks without a reason, but they always have to be FOR something.

“Thank you for taking the time to consider our offer. Without you, we would not have discovered that we made a mistake. If you hadn’t, the client would’ve been upset, and that would’ve endangered our relationship.”

The danger comes when attention is expected. It’s an art to surprise employees over and over again. A birthday or Christmas present is not a surprise. But remembering when the collaboration began and giving a surprise as a gift or sending it home on the anniversary will be remembered and strengthen the relationship. But please do not send an 0815 box of chocolates, flowers or a bottle of wine. You should try to give an attention that is personal and surprising (in this German article I have collected some ideas).

Constructive feedback

Please do not misunderstand: Emotional leadership does not mean “love, peacy and harmony” and that you are not allowed to express criticism anymore! It is rather about HOW to give feedback and criticism.

If something goes wrong, the manager should first ask himself what the problem is. If he does not know, he asks! It’s about looking behind the façade and questioning whether he has all the information at hand before making a judgement.

The feedback is always directed towards the future. What is the point of telling the employee in front of a full team that his presentation was terrible. It makes more sense to go to the person personally and give them a tip on what he might try differently next time and tell him the WHY. With this you can

  1. make sure that the feedback can be accepted: “Would you like me to give you some feedback on your presentation?”
  2. be clear and precise. The criticism is directed at the matter and not at the person. “To avoid losing credibility, you should try to check your slides for spelling mistakes next time. It’s just a shame if your colleagues stop looking at the content because of this little distraction.”
  3. show understanding: “I know that this time it was simply a matter of time.”
  4. show appreciation: “I appreciate that you did your best to get it done on such short notice.”
  5. express confidence: “I have confidence in you that your next presentation will impress everyone.”

Sensemaking

Of course, you don’t give the team tasks if they are not necessary. What seems logical to you, the employees do not necessarily understand. It is important that the employees understand the meaning behind the task. But even more important: explain to the employee why HE is important. Why it makes sense that HE gets the task done. The employee should not have the impression that he could be replaced by anyone else. It should understand why HE is most qualified to do this now, and why it would not be possible without him. One must change the perspective in communication: Man first, task second.

Is this manipulation? The manager recognises the needs and designs his communication in such a way that you feel addressed and understood and do what he expects you to do.

You could call it manipulation, but it could also be marketing or education. You could call it all sorts of things. The difference: how we decide to look at it. In the end, that’s all that counts: how the employees feel. And if the employee has the feeling of being understood and doing a meaningful job, then you have done a really good job as a manager.

“Emotional leadership is only possible in Silicon Valley,” I heard some time ago. “It’s all so easy for a Google, I can’t run an Edeka store like this!”

The misconception is widespread that in some industries you only lead by force and orders, because seriously: who should find it motivating to stand at a cash register or clean shelves? From my own experience I know that even the cashier can be motivated to do his job. I managed a retail store for years and at the time I thought that it often only works with concrete tasks and orders. It does not. Because, to be honest, having a cashier at the checkout who only does this because he has to and is bored and doesn’t feel like being here at all is not conducive. One would much rather have an employee who greets customers in a friendly manner, is happy about the customers, smiles and is passionate about the customers.

The difference between employee A and B lies in the manager and the way he or she communicates the task.

Employee A was given the task in this way: “Come at 7:00 am, sit at the register, collect by 3:00 pm.”

Employee B was introduced to the task with emotional leadership. In practical terms, it could look like this:

  • Needs: “How are you today? Your daughter was sick last week, is she better?”
  • Appreciation: “I really appreciate you being here today looking for someone to take care of your sick daughter. That’ s not a given.”
  • Feedback: “I noticed you’ve come up with a trick to get XY faster. Can you show it to me and the team? It would make all our work easier.”
  • Understanding: “I understand that cashing in is not the most exciting activity. But it’s actually the main activity, because you can give customers a great shopping experience.”
  • Sense: “You know, customers can actually get our products anywhere, but what they can’t get is your special welcome and advice. Your presence can make the day better for many of our customers. You are the reason they keep coming back to us.”

Of course, the manager invests much more effort in employee B. But: does one really need a manager when in the end it’s all about giving tasks and orders? An app or a computer could do that, too. The computer cannot (yet) distribute appreciation, empathy, recognition. That’s why I believe that social skills will play an increasingly important role in leadership in the future. They are irreplaceable and the fuel for motivation and ultimately for performance.

 

Conclusion

Basically, New Leadership is about emotional leadership and better communication. It is about making people understand why we want to go in one direction with them. And it’s about giving support and meaning in a VUCA world so that they can orientate themselves better and no longer feel lost. To achieve this, it is important to focus on people’s concrete needs, to be understanding, to give constructive feedback and to value their performance. If this is successful, the employees’ loyalty to the company is strengthened and productivity and profits increase. New leadership becomes reality.

Who is the leader of tomorrow?

The signpost, the sense maker, the motivator.

Ideally he is it already today!

 

Notes:

Modern Bakery - gifts with meaning

Marie Burgstaller offers special attentions that you can give to your colleagues and employees. Details can be found at https://modernbakery.de/.

If you like to discuss appreciation and emotional leadership with Marie Bockstaller, you can easily do so via https://leadingwith.de/. There you will find her great German podcast as well. And if you subscribe to Marie’s newsletter (https://leadingwith.de/leaderletter), you will regularly receive practical leadership inputs from her.

 

[1] von Rundstedt, together with the market research institute INNOFACT AG, interviewed around 1,000 men and women. The sample corresponds to the representative distribution of the German population according to age, gender and region. The independent online survey took place in April 2018.
[2] https://www.gallup.de/182567/q12-employee-engagement.aspx
[3] https://de.statista.com/infografik/19457/warum-beschaeftigte-kuendigen/

Marie Bockstaller

Marie Bockstaller

Marie Bockstaller’s career is a classic: bachelor’s degree in psychology, then master’s degree in neurosciences and then the doctoral thesis. Towards the end of her dissertation she decided to change her life. Overnight she became the team manager of a team of 20 people. She discovered the power of emotional leadership and developed her leadership style: respectful, attentive, motivating, appreciative. She then decided to go one step further and founded her company Modern Bakery. With her company, she wanted to finally create business gifts that radiated genuine appreciation for employees. It was also about emotional leadership. The product was a means to that end. Since it was all about the message, she decided to make her voice heard and also started the podcast “Leading with…”.