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The Leadership Directive

At this time, just one-half of American employees agree that they see evidence of effective leadership from senior management at the organizations where they work and just four-in-ten are satisfied with the performance of their senior leaders. These are important statistics because it is very difficult to inspire employees to go "above and beyond" the call of duty when they don't see a similar commitment from the leaders of their organization.

One of the most important tasks of senior management is to create a culture of trust and integrity that encourages everyone to recognize and respect the contributions made by all employees. Employees, though, can identify many different occasions where senior leadership fails to live up to their expectations. Some examples we've seen include:

  • Believing that senior management is isolated, unapproachable and out of touch with day-to-day reality,
  • Feeling that senior leaders have no concern for employees' welfare and no interest in hearing their perspective on how work conditions and policies can be improved,
  • Attributing certain decisions to senior management's own self-interest rather than for the good of the organization as a whole, and
  • Failing to communicate efficiently and effectively, especially when making changes or announcing initiatives that will directly impact employees.
These findings suggest that there is a crisis of confidence in the ability of senior management to manage their organizations effectively, which is a fundamental requirement for engaging and retaining talented staff.

It seems to us that employees evaluate senior leaders using some version of following four questions:
  1. Have they clearly defined what the organization stands for?
  2. Do they have a plan to achieve success?
  3. Can they be trusted to do what they say?
  4. Do they have trust and confidence in their employees?
Although there is an old adage that employees don't leave their jobs but, instead, they leave their managers, our experience with exit surveys is that employees often leave because they have lost confidence in senior management and disagree with the direction the organization is taking.

The solution to this crisis in the simplest terms is that senior management need to inspire confidence among their employees that they have (1) a clear vision for the organization, (2) a workable plan and (3) the competence to achieve it. Furthermore, senior leaders can't just "talk the talk," they also have to "walk the walk" and back up their words with action. Senior leaders who can't, or won't, back up their good intentions with action are essentially driving employees out of their organizations.

Robert Gray

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