Friday, April 19, 2019
the Worst Part About Having a JOB
Once upon a time as a school teacher I was told by an incompetent supervisor that if I thought I knew better than him I should go out on my own and prove it. So I did. And that has been the difference in my happiness and success in life.
Most people have at some point worked for a bad boss. In fact, when it comes to the performance of managers and leaders, the norm is incompetence rather than competence. This is why so many people are disengaged, looking for other jobs, and ditching traditional employment to work for themselves instead.
Businesses struggle to accept this. After all, they are in charge of selecting effective bosses, and admitting that their leadership choices are self-destructive is perhaps a step too far. And yet, only 20% of boards of directors see their leadership identification and development practices as effective, while 70% of employees report that the worst part of their job is their direct line manager.
Since it is safe to assume that businesses are interested in getting results, and high-quality leaders are the biggest single driver of results, why is there is so much tolerance for incompetent leaders. What stops businesses from simply replacing them with more talented people who will enable their teams to go from boredom, burnout and alienation to inspiration, pride and productivity?
Three things. The first is a general inability — or unwillingness — to actually measure the performance of their leaders. Unlike in professional team sports where leaders are carefully scrutinized based on how their teams perform (and the rules of the game are well-defined), businesses tend to lack robust metrics to compare the performance of their leaders and evaluate how they impact their teams, business units or the organization as a whole.
At times, they do of course inspect key performance indicators, such as team revenue, profit, net promoter scores, customer satisfaction ratings and turnover. But it occurs too infrequently, and even then, data are noisy and conflated by a range of hidden or unmeasured variables.
The most common scenario is to simply inspect how leaders are rated by their own bosses, which explains why leaders are so busy managing up — when good leadership is about managing down.
The second is the influence of toxic politics. In the absence of clear-cut performance data, leadership is reduced to a popularity contest, a political game in which Machiavellian and manipulative leaders will thrive. This also explains why incompetent leaders will reproduce: the more inept and corrupt a manager is, the more detrimental his or her hiring decisions will be. Moreover, such managers will go to great lengths to sabotage the career prospects of talented and ethical employees focused on helping organizations rather than pleasing their bosses.
The third and final reason is a failure to understand leadership potential. This can take many shapes, but the overarching theme is the tendency to ignore the science of leadership at the expense of flawed leadership models and unreliable evaluations of leadership potential. For example, organizations put too much emphasis on candidates’ past performance, but many great individual contributors aren’t really able to manage people, and they will see a “promotion” into a leadership role as punishment. What is the logic of moving people away from a job they were doing well, to put them in one they can’t do?
Companies also focus on the wrong soft skills, selecting leaders on confidence rather than competence, charisma rather than humility, and narcissism rather than integrity. These flawed criteria explain not only why the majority of leaders are incompetent, but also why they are male — as men generally have more of these toxic traits than women. The result is a pathological system that rewards leaders for their incompetence while impeding more talented and competent individuals from rising to the top.
Luckily, the solution to our leadership problems is simpler than people may think. First, organizations should pay attention to the science and focus on the qualities proven to make people better leaders: competence, humility and integrity. Competence is a function of experience, knowledge and intelligence. Detecting it is not that hard so long as those tasked to detect it are themselves competent and have subject matter expertise in the field. Humility and integrity can be assessed with science-driven psychometric tests (like the NEO-PI-R personality assessment or Hogan’s Dark Side assessment) and 360-degree feedbacks.
Second, organizations — and especially HR leaders — must learn to distrust their instincts. Unlike in nuclear physics or organic chemistry, people often assume that intuition is a valid tool in the social and behavioral sciences. But there is a science to understanding and predicting human behavior, just like there is a science to nuclear physics and organic chemistry. Using data and predictive assessments — even when the results run counter to one’s intuition — will help organizations detect true leadership potential and select the right people.
Third, don’t lower the bar when selecting female leaders, but elevate it when selecting male leaders so not to be blinded by their confidence, swagger and charisma. Select more on substance rather than style. In other words, the best approach to get more women in leadership is to follow the same approach we would follow if we wanted to improve the quality of our leaders: focus on talent rather than gender.
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