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  • Writer's pictureNeil Keeler

Leadership - a lever for change or ‘Uber-Management’ - a stick to beat you with?

'Disclaimer' - I'm in no way relating this to the the travel/technology company, I mean the German sense of 'Uber' - above, higher - in my meaning excessively applying more of a thing i.e. in an over the top manner!

Last blog we considered the ‘what’ of organisational performance, the appetite and ambition of your strategy. Commonly the strategy will have changed, the mission needs to evolve to overcome the challenges of new forces in the environment, new tactics (channels, markets, products, approaches) must now be found, or created to continue to deliver.

This week we start to look at how that change meets both:

  • the individual;

  • and, the collective mass of your people i.e. the organisation.

That happens via leadership, locally - their immediate line manager and collective the leadership of the firm overall - the levers of change. Both impact the engagement of individuals and the culture of the organisation.

Leaders need to inform (critically) the reasons for the change as well as articulating exactly and compellingly, what that change will deliver - it’s outcomes. Wise leaders will engage their people on deciding quite how we might get there.

As I started this article I quickly realised this will have to be a two parter - there’s so much to cover. So, in this part 1) I’m going to look at what is leadership is and how does it differ from management or my rather tongue in cheek critique of what I refer to as ‘Uber-Management’?

In part 2) we will look at just what engaging leadership is, its benefits and how crucial it is to ‘shifting’ performance? With some tips on tools to help. Hope that is OK! 👍

Before anything else just clarify in your own mind what do you really mean by leadership - are you talking of a behaviour or the occupant of a hierarchical role/position?

Think of a great leader you've had previously what comes to mind? Suspect it's not their title!

A simple definition of a leadership behaviour is when someone is addressing ‘an elephant in the room’, an issue preventing the organisation’s mission being achieved.

The courageous behaviour of drawing everyones attention to ‘what is really going on’, can create a sharp intake of breath. The ‘Emperors nakedness’, the project teams malfunctioning performance or the relationships clearly disintegrating in front of all, are the voiced observations of leaders confirming the reality we all see but most don't mention. Honesty and integrity are key.

Effective leaders usually have a vision of what should more suitably replace that and the wisdom to allow others to work out how to get there.

Daniel Goleman talks of leaders being our “emotional guide’ those with the ability to sway our human emotions having the greatest impact. (The New Leaders - 2002, Sphere)

I’ve experienced senior people in organisations who were highly accomplished and technically excellent, professionals. Sometimes becoming very effective managers, delivering the right project outcomes on time, often known to ‘get the trains running on time’, yet they are not engaging their people, or worse still they leave the damage behind them.

They can turn up their ‘management’ to ever higher 'volumes' becoming what I term ‘Uber-Managers’. Loud, proud and not good in a crowd - their weaknesses are nearly always fully exposed during times of change, the time that all levers really come under tension.

So what attributes and focuses are aligned to Management and Leadership - this table helped me (please note I'm not anti-management) as Drucker said 'leadership and management are like two wings of an aircraft, we need both' where many organisations have critical challenges is transitioning managers into leaders.

In my model an Uber -Manager reaches and lifts the weight OK, but they can never rest it securely on the small fulcrum available to them, they’ll not lift performance anywhere with such minimal engagement. More force being mistakenly and frustratingly applied crushes engagement even further, the next lift will be even harder.

I believe ‘Uber-Managers’ are why most organisations tragically only have a third of their people engaged i.e. committed and fully productive at work.

They are the organisational equivalent of the worst of Brits behaviour abroad, shouting ever louder in English, in the belief that will somehow bring results. Bigger, louder management isn’t engaging leadership.

“You manage things, you lead people. We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership”

Grace Hopper (1987)

Many of these ‘Uber-Managers’ feel highly stressed, exposed, ultimately undermined by the Peter principle and the well meaning but ill considered promotion too far.

They can be surrounded by grievances, conflict and individual underperformance, sometimes excused as having ‘challenging teams’ and with a high involvement with HR they can become toxic. Their engagement scores (if their people complete the survey) can be shockingly low.

They are sometimes acknowledged to be like this too, perhaps supported by the patronage of a more senior leader who has spent some time making the mistake. Selecting them ‘as they’d get the job done’ and is now understandably struggling to address the error and move them forward.

From 'Uber-Manager' (crawling on 'the known' stem) to Engaging Leader - flying to the unknown!

Helping ‘Uber-Managers' to become leaders needs feedback, encouragement and of course their full and absolute commitment to ‘wanting to be a butterfly more than remaining a caterpillar’.

They’ll need to change, as will (very often) the leader above them as their relationships are often intertwined, not always healthily.

In part 2 next week I will share so what does that butterfly look like, what behaviours does an engaging leader have and how can we develop our managers to become engaging leaders?

The award winning employee engagement generated from such leaders encouraged a visiting CEO to say "they would have given their right arm for it".

Engaging leaders not only release higher performance from their people, but they build engagement (i.e. a higher fulcrum for all future lifting) and also strengthen their own ability to lift even greater weights. Building trust and confidence in change too.

Hope this got you thinking 💭 as always comments really welcome!

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Welcome to my blog

Hope you will find something here to really get you thinking. Topics will be on any of my passions: Organisational Development, Leadership, Employee Engagement, Culture Change, Organisational Improvement and Transformation are the key themes.  

If you have a topic or suggestion for a blog, or maybe you'd like to do a guest spot on here (!) drop me a line. I'd also like to share some of my experiences in moving from 32 years of working in the public sector to starting my own business!

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