Over the past few weeks, there’s been a noticeable uptick in leadership and management articles focusing on the topic of how leaders can ensure that they are providing a ‘safe’ environment for all of their employees. There’s little doubt that the rising interest in this topic is in response to the outcome of the recent presidential election in the United States.
While it’s unfortunate that we even have to consider or discuss such issues in today’s organizations, it does serve as a potent reminder of an even larger issue that affects all employees, and not just those who belong to a particular minority group. And that is, what kind of organizational climate are you helping or enabling to take root within your organization?
Now, to be clear, I’m not simply referring to whether you have a toxic workplace environment within your company’s walls. Rather, this is about whether you’re creating conditions where people are driven to bring their full selves to the work they do, or whether your employees are simply doing what’s expected of them. That they are simply reacting to what they see going on around them, instead of being proactive in finding ways to ensure your collective success in achieving your long term goals.
The reason why leaders need to be concerned about this issue as we begin to shift our focus to the new year ahead can be found in the findings of a recent survey done by Dale Carnegie Training, where they interviewed over 3 300 full-time employees in 14 countries, including Canada, United States, and the United Kingdom.
Through their survey, the researchers found that 44% of employees worldwide said that they will be looking for a new job in 2017 (in the US alone, 26% of employees said they’d be looking for a new job in the next 12 months, while 15% said they’re already actively looking for a new place to work).
To put this another way, what this means is that almost half of your workforce is at risk of looking for a new job in 2017, a troubling statistic to be sure. Of course, I’m sure many leaders will try to reassure themselves by pointing to the current job market in their industry; of how there are fewer better options out there that might convince some of their employees to jump ship.
But what we really need to take note of here is not whether 40% of our employees might leave our organization in 2017. Rather, the critical message here is the implications of having almost half of your employees thinking about looking for work elsewhere. Namely, that while these employees are doing the work that’s been assigned to them, they’re not fully committed to giving their best efforts towards helping you to achieve your vision or shared purpose.
And frankly, the truth is leadership is not about enabling people to meet expectations, but empowering them to exceed them [Share on Twitter].
Again, going back to this Dale Carnegie Training study, the researchers reported that “effective leaders develop themselves and create a safe environment that fosters their employees’ capacity to grow”, as almost 80% of employees worldwide have stated that a key motivating factor is having a leader who “encourages me and makes me believe in my ability to improve” instead of simply being “satisfied with competence”.
Not surprisingly, this study also found that one of the things employees want to see their leaders provide more of is “praise and honest appreciation” for the contributions they make, with more than 75% of employees agreeing that “a leader who gives praise and honest appreciation would be more likely to inspire them than someone who is more focused on getting the job done”.
It’s a cogent reminder that people don’t invest their best simply to get the job done; they invest their best because they care [Share on Twitter]. They want to know that they and the work they do matters, and that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves; something that’s worth committing your best efforts in order to make it your collective reality.
What these studies remind us is that it’s easy to ask ourselves the question of whether our leadership supports or enables a toxic workplace environment because this is one of those binary questions we ask ourselves more to assure ourselves about who we are as a leader and as a person.
It’s even lazy or deceitful because the question is one that doesn’t involve genuine introspection, of being honest in looking within ourselves for those hidden gaps in how we lead, and those overlooked impacts we have on those under our care.
We see evidence of this truth in yet another finding from this study, where 84% of employees stated that it was important that leaders “have the humility to admit when they are wrong, setting an example by modeling a willingness to learn from mistakes”.
In addition to demonstrating how leaders shouldn’t act as though they have all the answers, this finding also illustrates how it’s through our leadership that we serve to set the tone and environment of not only what’s acceptable in our organization, but also what we’re truly paying attention to and what we’re willing to recognize.
Seen from this light, it becomes clear that asking the question ‘are you creating or supporting a toxic workplace environment‘ is only the starting point and not the end to understanding what kind of organizational culture we’re providing for all our employees.
Indeed, what this reveals is that leaders need to ask: are we creating an environment that empowers people to bring and be their best? [Share on Twitter] Are we being supportive of the diversity of people, thoughts, ideas, and experiences that are becoming so necessary for us to not only achieve our goals, but to thrive in today’s increasingly shrinking world?
In his recent article for the Harvard Business Review, Bill Taylor mentions a term used in behavioural economics called “omission bias”, something Taylor describes as “the tendency to worry more about doing something than not doing something, because everyone sees the results of a move gone bad, and few see the costs of moves not made”.
In many ways, this appears to be the driving force behind this growing tide of disenfranchisement we see in workplaces around the world, where it’s not so much what we’re doing as it is what we’re allowing to go unchecked or unaddressed.
Seen in that light, it’s easy to appreciate and empathize with the growing calls to ensure workplaces remain a welcoming, safe environment for all employees, irrespective of their race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, and so forth.
But we must not lose sight that while this might be in response to the shifting political landscape in the United States and in certain European countries, the fact is there is an even greater issue that every leader needs to address and own up to if they are to create the proper conditions to ensure that everyone succeeds and thrives under their leadership.
Ultimately, what this comes down to is remembering the fact that to make our vision a reality, we need to foster a culture that empowers the best in those we lead [Share on Twitter]. That while it’s up to us to create and communicate the vision that defines the purpose behind our collective efforts, it’s also our responsibility to ensure that we are providing conditions within our workplace that inspires and motivates all of our employees to bring their best efforts to that shared purpose.
In so doing, we can use our leadership to accomplish more than simply getting things done. Indeed, we can create opportunities for us to collectively achieve the vision that defines why we do what we do, as well as creating an environment where everyone we have the responsibility to lead can succeed and grow.
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