1. Absent leadership can’t address important issues.
I was fascinated reading a tweet recently regarding the lack of visible and relevant leadership by the president of the country and I quote from David Kibuuka: “It is sad that I have to get inspired by other peoples’ presidents, ‘cause our guy is busy at Builders’ Warehouse” (referring to repeated visits to one of the building supply retailers of the country by the president for his personal house project). A few years ago, another of the presidents of the country was so busy being involved in African Union affairs and was almost always out of the country that the local media headlined the plea: “Mr President, come home!” The void left by these presidents as they attend to “other matters” is/was sorely felt by the citizens of the country, all of whom probably realise that important leadership issues were/are not being addressed in the president’s absence.
2. A present leader is key to an engaged workforce.
Being a manager, even of a country, implies applying leadership influence, which in turn necessitates being present in a relevant way with members of the team – I say “relevant”, because many managers are physically present, but emotionally distant, from those that are followers. Employee engagement principles suggest that an emotional commitment to employees by the manager is essential for team well-being, focus and productivity. Gallup, in their study of human nature and behaviour for the past seventy years or more and in their findings of the factors affecting feelings of engagement within an organisation, developed a 12-question survey to measure levels of employee engagement. Almost all of the questions point to the responsibility of the manager/leader facilitating the appropriate “on-boarding” and “maintenance” of staff. Gallup went on to say: “The leader is the key to an engaged workforce – not compensation and benefits” (italics mine).
3. Employee engagement is the key leadership challenge.
Brand Pretorius, during his period of leadership as CEO of McCarthy Holdings SA, said: “Leaders are dispensers of enthusiasm” – a dynamic sadly lacking in many workplaces today. So, if true, what is required from the leader to ensure employee engagement is facilitated within the organisation – be that a leader of a country or a supervisor on the shop floor? Some of the following pointers may be helpful:
- Leaders must totally “buy-in” to the employee engagement process – employee engagement should not be viewed as the “flavour of the month”
- Leaders must be fully engaged themselves – demonstrating company values and being an example of focus, energy and productivity
- Leaders should communicate the vision and purpose of the company frequently and draw the dotted line of every activity back to the purpose repeatedly
- Leaders should genuinely care for their staff – their well-being, development, safety, careers, spirit and contribution
- Leaders need to recognise contribution appropriately, preferably as close to the event as possible
- Leaders should remove barriers to engagement, listening openly to suggestions and feedback from subordinates
- Leaders should repeatedly affirm the value of each role in the organisation and demonstrate emotional commitment to staff within each role. Employee effort is partly derived from the value perceived by the employees of their respective roles
Leaders, be present – not just rationally and physically, but also emotionally. James K Clifton (CEO – Gallup Organisation) said: “The next decade is going to be about the emotional economy of the workplace, about increasing the number of engaged employees within organisations”. Managers, let’s rise to this leadership challenge.
Maybe leaders sometimes avoid issues when they feel scared e.g. out of their depth technically or emotionally. On the other hand, some leaders may be more arrogant than scared, having a bad motive for being in the leadership role e.g. power, money etc. and don’t give a damn. I suppose the way you would practice upward management as a person under these two different types of absent leaders would be different. Any advice on that? On a less serious note: I actually think Zuma fits both these profiles somehow – what a legend!
Leaders certainly neglect employee engagement interventions when they feel threatened or out of their depth. Some, on the other hand, are just too full of themselves to care about their staff. Upward management comes from a place of competence and character – competence – you can be trusted to perform and consistently do so, and character – your integrity is in place. When these two are present, it is far easier to upward manage, though never easy. One would have to approach the two types that you mention differently: the scared manager perhaps with an offer to assist; the arrogant manager with an offer to improve the team results. Both can be handled if one’s relationships with them are in tact. One manages one’s boss out of relationship.