How Responsive Leadership Ensures You're Seen as a 'Good Boss'

How Responsive Leadership Ensures You're Seen as a 'Good Boss'

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The results of a study performed by Perceptyx, a company that specializes in employee surveys and people analytics, should serve as a wake-up call for managers: 24% of 1,500 employees polled said they currently work for the worst boss they’ve ever had.

Worse yet, the study found that people working for their “worst boss ever” are three times more likely to be disengaged than those with good managers and almost four times more likely to say they intend to quit within 12 months.

The key behavior that garnered either a worst- or best-boss ranking? Responsiveness, says Lisa Sterling, chief people officer at Perceptyx.

“A key takeaway from the study shows a very high correlation between overall responsiveness and whether employees feel they work for a great leader versus not such a great leader,” she explains. “In fact, leaders who are less engaged and less responsive are 25 times more likely to be identified as a bad boss. And on the flip side, those rated very strongly for connectivity and responsiveness are five times more likely to be identified as good boss.”

When asked how they would describe their worst boss, 48% said “incompetent” and “unsupportive,” followed by “disrespectful” (28%) and “unfair” (27%), according to the study.

Wide ramifications

Worse yet, those working for their worst boss were two times more likely to have negative health impacts, such as poor sleep, lost productivity or increased alcohol consumption, and twice as likely to find it more difficult to enjoy other elements in their lives, Sterling says.

“I found it very surprising that the lack of managers’ responsiveness drives such profound implications outside of work,” she says. “I think that many leaders don’t recognize how they show up in terms of being available and insightful or being good mentors or coaches. Unfortunately, it’s far more common for leaders to be less engaged and less responsive because we’re having fewer real-life interactions. And at the same time, we are getting hit by communications in many different ways, which creates an environment where it’s more challenging for leaders to show up the way we want them to show up. So managers need to be more thoughtful about those communication channels they use — talk more about how we leverage technology to deliver more personalized communications.”

Sterling believes employees are fatigued by communication technologies such as Zoom and Slack. Especially during the pandemic, managers embraced those technologies for communication, but haven’t stepped back to consider whether they’ve made people’s jobs — or lives — better or even enhanced communications.

A personal touch

So what can managers do to ensure they get rated as a best boss? They can start by having regular team meetings and being more deliberate about holding one-on-one sessions with direct reports. Those who do so are 43 times more likely to be judged as a best boss, according to the study.

Recognizing employee achievements also ranks high on the list. It’s critical to acknowledge when employees do a good job because it helps build good relationships when employees know their work is appreciated, Sterling says.

“Another key piece is sharing information and explaining to employees how their work contributes to the overall success of the organization,” she reports.

Positive feedback and coaching is also vital. It’s important to tell people what they’re good at as well as point out areas where they need coaching. The study also showed a disconnect here: 27% of employees felt their managers could use some kind of training to be better coaches, but only 17% of managers felt they needed it.

High expectations

In defense of managers, however, Sterling agrees that this is one of the most challenging times to be a leader in an organization, especially given the growing predominance of digital communications.

“The space created with more of a digital-first approach to working is putting a squeeze on leaders and making it more difficult for them to be present the way they need to be,” she notes. “We also see more clients putting employees into leadership roles earlier in their careers, so there’s a greater chance they lack leadership maturity. That makes it difficult for them to show up as a great leader.”

As such, it’s time for organizations to “over-invest” in some of the most basic elements of leadership, she says.

“We’ve also seen a shift in employee expectations in all industries. They expect a lot more, not just from their leaders but from their organizations, than they did just a few short years ago. The pendulum has swung from employer-led organizations to employee-led organizations and it’s hard to keep up with that.”

The study also showed that 48% of managers say their jobs as leaders have become more difficult in just the last year and 40% say they’re under more pressure from both their direct reports and their upper management.

Employee retention

Overall, organizations need to be more deliberate about who they select as leaders; some people just shouldn’t be managers, regardless of their experience or how much an organization has invested in them, Sterling notes.

“We also have to continually invest in their knowledge, skills and capabilities,” she adds. “Skill sets become outdated very fast these days and expectations shift fast, too, so we have to put the pedal down, so to speak, to invest in leaders because they’re closest to the people who are closest to the business and its partners and customers.”

What are the risks if organizations stand pat? For one, they’ll lose a competitive edge in the war for top talent in a tight labor market. They’ll also be more prone to employee turnover.

“People are less apt to stay at organizations where there are unhealthy relationships between employees and leaders,” Sterling notes. “People leave leaders, not organizations … and they’re just not as willing anymore to tolerate conditions that don’t meet their expectations.

“There’s definitely a high correlation between organizations with high levels of engaged employees and how they outperform their competitors. Most organizations are successful because of their people, so we have to make sure that their experiences live up to expectations.”


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