Many politicians do it and some managers do it – they mess with your mind. It’s a wicked game, sometimes called manipulation, coercion or exploitation. “Manipulation”, as a word used in physiotherapy treatment, speaks to kneading, flexing and massage. It has an absolutely positive intent in mind – removal of pain and ultimate healing as a result. Manipulation in a business context, however, relates to the outmanoeuvring of others, jostling for position and stage-managing your power for selfish reasons – a misapplication of your leadership role. Employees are typically disregarded in these scheming processes – they feel controlled, powerless and overlooked. Force is used by these leaders to get things done and a sense of helplessness is pervasive among employees who typically comment: “What can be done? It’s what happens around here”.
In an environment where political gamesmanship plays a significant role, the organisational culture becomes toxic and employees lose hope. Some or all of the following issues are experienced:
- Company values get diluted and behaviour becomes suspect
- Customer service is impacted negatively
- Staff retention becomes increasingly more difficult and absenteeism becomes rife
- Employees are filled with anxiety and dread, resulting in over-tiredness, emotional despair, depression and other ailments
- Energy levels drop and innovation and ideas are not forthcoming
- Decisions get made selfishly, often at great cost to the organisation
- Silos develop amongst departments/teams
- Communication becomes guarded and altogether ineffective
- Industrial action incidents increase
- Neglect of equipment and other assets becomes commonplace
- A deep sense of mistrust sets in
The alternative to the above disintegration of culture (an environment where people feel that they belong, their ideas are valued and that they have a voice) is only realised with selfless leadership, care and meaningful engagement with employees. To influence culture growth effectively, the leader should:
- Behave with integrity consistently – no hidden agendas or mixed messages, but rather a demonstration of fairness, moral congruence and uprightness.
- Be present – emotionally and physically. Relate with compassion to conditions and people in general, but be inspirational in direction and firm on expectations. Set the pace by example.
- Communicate effectively – no withholding of pertinent pieces of information, but rather a deliberate effort of communicating as much as possible, as clearly as possible and as soon as possible.
- Recognise and reward appropriately – employees need to feel valued and that they fill a rightfully important role in the organisation. Excellence should be acknowledged.
- Refer to the “big picture” frequently – this includes, but is not limited to, company values, vision, mission, strategy, goals, targets, quality, service levels, etc.
- Give and receive feedback appropriately – employees need to know how well they are doing and managers need to understand employee messages and do something about them (e.g. “Is there something that I should stop doing? Is there something that you would like me to do more or less of? Is there something that I should start doing?”)
- Coach continuously – do not necessarily give answers as employees can think too. Rather, facilitate conversations with growing performance in mind – here there will be more thinking, more learning and more ideas will be forthcoming.
Mind (and heart) games are manipulative and ultimately emotionally destructive. Sincere engagement with employees, on the other hand, solicits involvement and participation, commands respect and builds a performance culture of which everyone feels proud.