“People who live in glass houses can’t pretend they are not at home” (Anon)
Leadership “busyness” is frequently used as an excuse for a lack of effective employee engagement – managers attending a plethora of meetings, deadlines that have to be met, targets that have to be reached, issues in the production processes that need fixing, etc., with no time left for effective interaction with subordinates. As a result, employees become frustrated, disillusioned and even angry. This is particularly true when managers are physically present (they are at the office), but carry on with their stuff whilst seemingly ignoring others around them. Managers are always being watched by employees – constantly. They, in a sense, live in glass houses and, as such, can’t pretend they are not at home.
Employee engagement is the manager’s job – yes, meetings have to be conducted, reports or proposals finalised and production issues solved, however, emotional connection with subordinates is essential if focus, energy, commitment, discretionary effort and productivity are to be realised. The manager/employee relationship should go beyond the transactional employment contract to arrive at some form of transformational collaboration. To achieve this requires focused effort. Many managers never get to this point, probably for a number of reasons:
- Insecurity – not feeling able to deal with difficult issues (fear)
- A sense of self-importance – keeping themselves at a distance to maintain seniority (their position)
- Inability to communicate well – good at ‘telling’, but not good at ‘reflecting’ or listening
Being a manager is an “on the spot” position – colleagues and subordinates are looking to the manager to lead a team, care for team members, bring out the best in each individual and cohesively accomplish company expectations and targets. A manager does not need to be fearful, however, as a key tool in leadership is facilitation-ability. Facilitation skills can be learned – these skills enable the manager to deal with any situation (even emotionally-charged ones) and empower others involved in the discussion at the same time. This facilitation proficiency impacts the following contexts:
- Ambiguity – in certain situations, the manager does not know the feelings of staff or how they think about an issue. Facilitation of the discussion allows everyone the opportunity of airing their respective views or opinions on the matter. Facilitation, in this context, is not judgemental, but rather interested in understanding diverse inputs.
- Solution-creation – instead of “telling” or “supplying” a solution for employees, facilitation of a discussion in relation to the presenting problem provides an opportunity for all to be involved in sharing ideas and finding the solution for themselves. This invokes a sense of ownership of the solution within the team.
- Conflict – impartial facilitation provides a “safe space” for parties to state their respective cases and possibly gain understanding of the views of others.
- Brain-storming – facilitation counters any form of idea dominance by an individual and gives everyone a fair opportunity for involvement.
- One-on-one discussions (coaching) – here the manager draws out the pertinent issues that the employee is facing and assists the employee in charting the steps ahead. Facilitation is involved in getting the individual to think of a number of ideas and the possible impact of the same.
- Removing obstacles – that which is hindering productivity and the ability to get results. The manager who facilitates well will listen effectively and then act on/remove barriers to achieving performance results.
- Ongoing learning – a manager/facilitator looks for opportunities for learning and staff development. Every situation thus asks two questions: “What can we learn here? How will this impact our behaviour in the future?”
A manager is “on the spot, but not afraid”, as long as facilitation skills have been acquired. Once facilitation abilities have been put in place, there is no need to shy away from difficult conversations or uncomfortable issues. “Glass houses” indeed provide just the opportunity that a manager needs to model the preferred behaviour patterns in the organisation.