Those who tolerate or even succumb to power come across as conformists. These employees spend hours appearing busy but are generally unwilling or unable to accept new responsibilities, make independent decisions, or engage with challenging problems (sadly, most organizational reward systems target just this type of behavior). Nothing good – certainly nothing that contributes to a competitive advantage – comes from prioritizing self-interest.
And these “good soldiers” bring us to the third reason so many managers and leaders get engagement wrong:
The Warfare Analogy: Command & Control
The war for talent… the war for customers… the war for market share… you can blame it on Hollywood or Sun Tzu, but the business as warfare analogy is overused, inaccurate, and damaging. Sure there are threats we face, but they’re more psychological than anything else (and we tend to create the big ones for ourselves).
The greatest problem with the war analogy is that it conjures an image of shoring up the front line – emphasizing a managerial role that looks for what is wrong, what isn’t working, or what needs fixing. And all this attention on weakness, keeps fallacies in the crosshairs (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Some refer to this as reactive management mode but I prefer to think of it this way: Fixation inspires exaggeration – reinforcing over and over again that things just aren’t good enough – accelerating the downward spiral in performance and engagement. But hope breaks the cycle. It’s the antidote for fear and because it involves agency (taking action), it keeps us moving towards the outcomes that matter most to us.
Gallup analyzed 2,000 managers’ responses to open-ended questions about their management approaches. Of particular interest was whether the supervisor believed it was better to devote more of his or her energy to “fixing” people’s weaknesses or to further improving an area of strength. On average, a workgroup led by a strengths advocate was almost twice as likely to create above-average results as one led by a manager biased toward patching up problems. Other studies have shown strengths-based management practices increase engagement (average of 33%) and productivity (average net gain of $5.4 million), yield fewer absences (down 24%) and lower turnover (average of 13%), and increased sales (average of 11%) and profitability (average of 20%).
Despite all the evidence (and much of this research isn’t exactly new), the Gallup data suggests that a disturbingly high percentage of managers are not meeting the needs of their employees. Actively disengaged employees outnumber engaged employees by nearly 2-to-1. Getting managers to encourage hope, however, requires some new thinking (and likely some help).
Which brings us to the fourth reason so many managers and leaders get engagement wrong:
Aversion to Getting Help
Most managers simply don’t know any better. They’re frequently fixated on accomplishing the objectives they’ve been given and rarely understand the effect of their behavior on others. Moreover, most managers believe that they are doing their jobs well and don’t see a need for a change. They may resist help for fear of appearing weak or ineffectual.
Even though it may have been the past environment or a prior set of experiences that resulted in the position of manager, to move forward there should be a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo. Take a lesson from every star athlete, actor, or business leader: when it comes to setting a new benchmark, breaking records, or a standout performance, a good coach will give you insight and perspective. There is simply too much to learn, too much to accomplish, to avoid any opportunity for assistance. No matter where you are in your career, a coach can make you work harder and progress faster than you would on your own.
Hopeful managers and leaders are self-aware. They know their capabilities, values, and vulnerabilities. In other words, they’re authentic. They’re involved (and you want them to be) because this is the type of leader that others want to follow. They accept and respect others, supporting both the goal and the pathway to reach that goal – even when one or both are non-traditional.
How to Develop Hope in Work Teams
If you’ve read The Hope Narrative then you already know about the power of hope – not the commonplace version that involves some form of wishful thinking, but the personal and corporate capital version of hope that includes the mental willpower and waypower to achieve goals.
Rick Snyder, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Kansas, is credited with originating Hope Theory: a “thinking state” in which an individual is capable of setting a goal, taking action towards achieving the goal, and developing alternatives when obstacles arise. Basically, another day (or financial quarter, or even year) at the office. Or is it?
Establishing Clear and Meaningful Goals
Hope allows people to approach problems with a mindset and strategy-set suitable to success, thereby increasing the chances they will actually accomplish their goals. The goals themselves, however, are deserving of some attention.
There is an undeniable link between goal setting and performance, but when it comes to hope, two characteristics must be present: meaning and clarity.