Stop. Think. Before you scrap your managers

By TEC Member Anne Moore, CEO at PlanDo

A radical change to business structures is leaking out of Silicon Valley and spreading through Australia and beyond. It even has a name: holacracy. Atlassian has scrapped its managers and so have Canva.

The tenets of holacracy are simple: authority and decision-making rests with the team that is actually doing the work, not with the boss. Employees, the theory goes, spend their work hours getting work done instead of seeking management approval for every small change in direction.

But before you scrap your managers, consider the following instead:

1. Find a career management platform that works for both the individual and the business
The traditional performance review process is broken. Most organisations in Australia have invested in expensive outdated ‘talent management’ systems that reflect what the organisation wants from its employees, to ‘manage’ them. Today, this approach simply doesn’t work. ‘Talent’ can’t be managed. The role an individual was hired to do six months ago, isn’t necessarily the role that person is doing today. With a younger generation of workers coming through, they want to take control of their own career and not have an organisation dictate to them the path they need to take to progress. Cloud based platforms such as PlanDo enable both the individual and organisation to have an ‘adult to adult’ conversation about career development, giving more control to the individual while still providing the ‘manager’ or ‘leader’ with greater visibility of the individual’s career goals and how they’re progressing.

2. Drop the ‘manager’ tag and replace with ‘leader’
Rather than scrapping managers altogether, replace them with ‘leaders’. Today, we don’t want or need to be ‘managed’. Research has proved that giving people accountability for their actions, increases engagement and loyalty towards organisations. By giving authority to individuals to be able to make decisions, not only empowers them but increases efficiency for the organisation, reducing the chance of bottlenecks.

3. Give more feedback more often
Instead of having to make team members wait for 12 months for their review, over a 3 hour meeting, organisations need to provide more feedback more often. This feedback shouldn’t just come from ‘managers’ or ‘leaders’ as they should be known, it should be from more than one person –  peers, mentors whomever the individual chooses. That way, a more complete picture can be built of the individual’s progress and a different perspective can be provided.

4. Set goals and objectives between individuals and leaders
It’s important for you to set goals and objectives together with your team members. Ask them how they can contribute to achieve the goals your organisation has set. Again, it comes down to ownership and if the individual has suggested a goal or objective, they’re much more likely to achieve it, than if they’re given one.

5. Let the individual take responsibility for his/her career development
Finally, helping your team members with their career progression is not all down to you, the employer. Competition is fierce in many industries in Australia to attract the best talent and then once you have those individuals, it’s a common misconception that it’s down to you to nurture them and outline a path for progression. Wrong. Today, this is a shared responsibility. The individual is responsible for their own career, ensuring their experience and skills are documented and taken with them to their next employer.

So before you scrap your managers altogether, adopt ‘leaders’ instead and give individuals more responsibility to self-direct their own careers. Equipping your people with tools and technology that facilitate regular conversation works well from both sides.  For leaders, it’s timely information about where your people are going and how they’re tracking.  For individuals, they’ll value the opportunity to gain regular feedback and take more control over their career. Do that well, and engagement and work satisfaction will soar.

Is narcissism a good leadership trait?

It is not uncommon for leaders to be narcissists – their talent for self-promotion and innate confidence means they are not afraid to throw their hat in the ring for powerful positions.

However, are narcissists reaching senior roles because they are inherently good leaders? Or does natural charisma cover some of their negative traits?

A recent study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) found that narcissism seems to have a limited impact on leadership skills. Instead, extremely narcissistic people tend to be poor leaders.

The academic institution examined previously unanalysed Hogan data, which revealed correlations between very high and low levels of narcissism and job performance.

Emily Grijalva, lead author of the study, said the findings clearly showed that narcissism is best in moderation.

“With too little, a leader can be viewed as insecure or hesitant, but if you’re too high on narcissism, you can be exploitative or tyrannical,” she explained.

Positions of power

The research supports a similar study that was conducted in 2008 by Ohio State University (OSU), which revealed there is limited correlation between narcissism and good leadership.

According to the university, narcissists are typically self-centred, overconfident in their abilities and lack empathy.

One study involved placing people into groups of four and provided them with a scenario where they had to imagine being shipwrecked on an island with no contact with civilisation.

They could pick 15 salvageable items from the wreck to bring ashore to help them survive until help arrived.

The results revealed narcissists quickly take control of a leaderless group, ruling discussions and making decisions. They often saw themselves as the leader and were also considered the leader by other team members.

However, when each list of items was analysed by a survival expert, teams led by narcissists performed no better than other groups.

Assistant Professor of Psychology at OSU Amy Brunell said the outcome is hardly a surprise.

“[Narcissists] like power, they are egotistical, and they are usually charming and extroverted. But the problem is, they don’t necessarily make better leaders,” she said.

Spotting image over substance

Clearly, some narcissists are benefiting from leadership development opportunities largely because of their ability to talk the talk.

Peter Harms, assistant professor of management in UNL’s College of Business Administration, claimed narcissists typically make a very good impression when you first meet them.

“Narcissists are great in interview situations – if you can reduce a leadership contest down to sound bites, you will give them an advantage,” he stated.

Despite this, the charisma will eventually wear off and colleagues tend to become aware that their overly confident colleagues aren’t quite as good as they think they are.

“At the personal level, they can be jerks. At the strategic level, they can take huge gambles because they’re so confident they’re right. They’re either making a fortune or they’re going broke,” he stated.

According to UNL researchers, the study should act as a warning to employers. They may need to examine their current hiring and leadership development practices to ensure they don’t unfairly play to the strengths of narcissists.

However, they also said people with very low levels of narcissism may not necessarily make better candidates either.

Can narcissists be reformed?

One of the key problems of narcissism is a lack of empathy, which could lead to poor treatment of employees in the workplace from those in senior positions.

New research from the University of Surrey and the University of Southampton could help organisations to overcome this issue and encourage narcissists to empathise with colleagues.

The institutions split people into two groups: ‘low narcissists’ and ‘high narcissists’. The participants were read a vignette describing a relationship break-up to gauge their reactions.

As expected, narcissists showed little sympathy for the subject, even when the scenario was fairly severe – for example, when the individual suffered depression due to the split.

The groups were then shown a video of someone experiencing domestic violence, but this time they were instructed to take the perspective of the victim. Specifically, they were prompted to imagine how the victim felt.

Narcissists reported significantly higher levels of empathy in these circumstances, with physiological evidence – such as increased heart rate – supporting this.

Lead researcher Erica Hepper said: “If we encourage narcissists to consider the situation from their teammate or friend’s point of view, they are likely to respond in a much more considerate or sympathetic way.”

The results could have significant ramifications for the business world, implying narcissistic leaders could be developed into more sympathetic, team-focused members of staff.

Having an egotistical person in charge can quickly create a toxic workplace environment, leading to poor productivity, high employee turnover and – in worst-case scenarios – accusations of bullying or negligence.

If your organisation has self-centred individuals impacting the workplace, perhaps consider coaching or mediation sessions to improve their performance and enhance staff morale.

Leadership vs. Management: Closing the great divide

Although it might seem like it doesn’t make much of a difference, what we call the people at the top of the organisational hierarchy can have significant implications.

The quickening rate of change in modern business means there is now a plethora of titles that executives can hold these days, with more appellations constantly being devised. However, there are two that have stood the test of time and continue to be widely used in the workplace today: leader and manager.

Are these two essentially the same thing? Or is it worth digging into the semantics, looking at the different nuances of each and what they mean for modern executive development?

In reality, there are key differences between the two concepts – but they may be of equal importance for today’s executives.

The Leader

Literature over the years has tended to paint leaders as a charismatic figure at the head of the organisation, engaging, inspiring and motivating employees to succeed. A lot of focus has been placed on how the best leaders transcend their technical skills and expertise and hold the innate ability to stir up their workers and get the best out of them.

These attributes are, of course, essential – the Center for Creative Leadership’s ‘What Makes a Leader Effective?’ study, for example, found that respondents in the US ranked being charismatic as the top quality for effective leadership. This placed it ahead of other factors such as being team-oriented, participative and humane-oriented.

In summary, a business’s leader appeals to its higher ideals and vision and aims to excite these within employees. The ‘Leadership versus Management: A Key Distinction – At Least in Theory’ paper by Sam Houston State University’s Fred C. Lunenburg explains it perfectly. While a manager “executes plans, improves the present and sees the trees”, a leader “articulates a vision, creates the future and sees the forest”.

While this comparison highlights the importance and value of a leader, it also indicates that strong management skills are also crucial – and the modern leader needs to be a great manager as well.

The Manager

So if the leader is in charge of guiding the organisation through its groundbreaking new steps, what does the manager do? An equally important role, according to Lunenburg – while a leader creates change, he says, the manager is responsible for managing that change.

Alan Murray’s Wall Street Journal Guide to Management, quoting leadership expert Warren Bennis, puts it another way – the leader develops, while the manager maintains. In addition, Bennis reiterates the different but equally vital perspectives the two take: the leader watches the horizon, while the manager has their eye on the bottom line.

In business, managing the day-to-day short term is just as important as taking a long-term view into the future, a notion that is reinforced by the branches of leadership and management – and how they complement each other.

Putting two and two together

As these analyses suggest, leadership and management can seem like polar opposites that are difficult to reconcile. However, in order to truly succeed in the modern business world, executives should focus on how they can leverage both their leadership and management capabilities, making them work for each other for the good of the organisation.