A recent survey by recruitment portal Monster [1] has revealed that 76% of US employees consider their bosses toxic. In findings published on America’s National Boss Day, the survey cited four, standard ways in which leadership toxicity is expressed: i) power hunger, ii) a tendency to micromanage, iii) absenteeism and iv) incompetence.

Covering the results for Inc.com, Scott Mautz – author of Make it matter: How Managers can Motivate by Creating Meaning – urges bosses to ask staff for feedback, writing: “If you've built a foundation of mutual trust, your employees will respond to your feedback request and will willingly want to help you get better. So don’t assume omnipotence or incompetence on your part – but do ask to find out where on the scale you fall.” [2]

However, fellow Inc writer Gene Marks – head of SME consultancy The Marks Group – takes a different tack, arguing that managers shouldn’t feel compelled to alter their behaviour. “If [an employee’s decision to leave] is a one-off situation,” he writes, “then you can shrug off the loss. But if there’s a pattern of losing employees then maybe, just maybe, you are a little toxic – or at least a pain the you-know-what. So here's what to do: don't change.”

Marks goes on: “That’s right. Don’t change. You may not be the best manager in the world. Your people skills may not be so hot. But if you’re successfully running a business it’s likely you've got other skills that compensate, be they technical, financial or otherwise. Of course that doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of being a good boss. It’s just that you do other things better. So – if you can – do what other smart executives in this situation do and get someone better than you to do the managing. You suck at it.”

He adds: “There are people in this world who are just better managers than others. If you're not one of them, and you've got the resources to bring someone in to be that manager, then do it.” [3]

However, while that may be the case, doesn’t every manager owe it to themselves to improve their people skills – regardless of whether or not they could bring in more adept communicators?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “I don’t know whether Gene Marks is trying to be deliberately controversial. But saying that it’s okay not to be good with people, and that any shortcomings on that front could be made up for by colleagues who are better, is problematic. Could you work for two people – one who supervises your technical work without the benefit of people skills, and another who makes you feel good and knows how to motivate and inspire you? I’d suggest not.”

Cooper asks: “on a wider level, what does this say about those managers’ other relationships? Bosses don’t just deal with the people who report to them. They deal with customers. They deal with suppliers. They collaborate with people in partner organisations. Any way you slice it, they are part of networks. And in any network, a facility for listening to people, being interested in them and wanting to understand their worldview not only provides a real edge, but encourages your peers to reciprocate. So to dismiss the benefits of that ability – as much to say, ‘Suck it up and get on with it’ – lacks a certain vision.”

She adds: “where I do have a modicum of sympathy is in the context of the line manager. As we all know, line managers are often needlessly vilified, and a longstanding adage of the workplace is that people leave managers, not jobs. But it is unfair to take the view that line managers should shoulder the entire burden of the communication dynamic. If you feel that you are not quite getting the gist of your line manager’s thoughts, then the onus is really on you to explain what you need that will help to make things clearer. It’s not simply about one person transmitting their people skills and another receiving them – it’s a relationship. So it’s up to both parties to make it work.”

For further thoughts on communication, check out these learning resources from the Institute

Source refs: [1] [2] [3]

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