Is Your Boss Letting You Succeed?

Career Advice

A great military leader for whom I wrote argued that “leadership is about giving people the opportunity to succeed.” Another great leader from the private sector argued that “everyone wants to succeed, and success is contagious.” He encourages leaders to “treat your employees like they want to succeed, not like they want to fail.” In “How Managers Can Excel by Really Coaching Their Employees,” Gallup’s Ben Wigert and Annamarie Mann offer a number of approaches that managers might leverage to truly turn on their employees, really give employees the resources they need to succeed on behalf of the larger team. But if Gallup’s right, the payoff can be huge.

the keys to organizational success

In my experience, these principles (giving people the opportunity to succeed and everyone wanting to succeed) are fair advice to any leader. I’ve yet to find any situation in which those principles don’t ring true. The question is, how can leaders and managers succeed at leading and managing? How can they tap into the incredible, powerful resource they have at hand?

Both principles establish that good leadership—that is, leadership that leverages the immense potential of the human resources and human spirit that managers and leaders have at their disposal for organizational success—good leadership is a pretty purely human endeavor. Gallup reports that “a mere 21% of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.” In other words, according to Gallup, less than one quarter of employees are really striving for success.

And, to some extent, both employees and managers hold the degree of success they achieve in their own hands. We are responsible for our own actions, of course. But managers are in a particularly privileged position. They hold in their hands their own success, and the success of those they lead. We shouldn’t miss that Gallup also indicates that over 75 percent of employees are just surviving. And if that’s true, it’s an incredible waste of latent potential and talent, a failure of tremendous proportions.

how often do you talk to your manager?

In general, successful management is about engaging people, not in a contrived way—if your hearts not in it, if it’s only a disingenuous gesture, that will be transparent to employees, and it will likely make things worse, not better. To begin, “managers and employees need to talk to each other more—a lot more—and much more frequently than during annual or even semiannual reviews.” Most have experienced those performance reviews in which an effusive manager praises performance, even as the employee knows full well the praise is not only hollow, but unwarranted. Remember, over 75 percent of employees are just surviving, not achieving great things.

Productive annual and semiannual performance reviews depend a lot on what happened in the six or 12 months before the review. That review shouldn’t be the first time the two have sat together and talked. “Great coaches aren’t hard to spot,” write Wigert and Mann. “They tend to be managers who take the time to connect with each team member authentically and individually.” And one can’t be authentic only once a year.

teamwork when the coach isn’t coaching

Ideally, employees don’t only believe they are part of a team working together to achieve clearly defined objectives. They are part of a team. Little is more disheartening than to hear a leader or manager talk about “the team,” when “the coach” isn’t coaching. According to Gallup, success for managers and leaders is about establishing a collaborative environment. “The best coaches,” write Wigert and Mann, “have collaborative dialogues with employees to clarify performance needs and define a path forward together.” Indeed, it’s highly likely that one or more of those “team” members have insights worth hearing. They’re very likely ready to offer some perspectives that could be invaluable to organizational success. One way to discover those gems is by way of true collaboration, by building and growing a team of people excited to succeed, together.

And while Wigert and Mann’s recommendations—and there are many more—may seem simple, to truly change one’s behavior is indeed difficult. It’s uncomfortable. It’s intimidating. It might even be a little scary. But for managers, embracing that challenge may very well be the first step towards real success, for themselves and their people.

Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.