A leader’s purpose is to bring out the best qualities in each employee, but it doesn’t normally work that way when outdated strategies come into play. Traditionally, people with boisterous personality traits are put into leadership positions because their superiors often mistake aggressiveness for assertiveness. They expect results in the form of increased profits, decreased expenses, and steady growth. Leaders often try to obtain these goals by implementing strict guidelines and by doling out discipline when their subordinates fail.
Leaders who become obsessed with control and the bottom line often treat their personnel like lackeys who simply exist as a means to advance their own agendas. This can create fear in the people they are supposed to guide and might actually lead to missing goals altogether. Fear stifles creativity—the desire to experiment and the willingness to learn.
Under these conditions, people lose their innovative abilities, which are necessary to solve problems. A humble leader recognizes this outdated style as counterproductive and strives to help people feel motivated, invigorated and determined so that they can bring a positive attitude to work. Also known as servant leadership, this management style can help employees grow and exceed their own expectations.
The terms servant and humility seem to imply weakness and low self-esteem. However, in this context they mean that a humble leader understands there’s much to be gained by encouraging others to test their own concepts and to employ their individual thinking skills. In addition to humility, servant-leader characteristics include courage and the ability to understand that others in less powerful positions still have expertise that can benefit the team.
Humble leaders create an atmosphere that inspires followers to reach their best potential. Instead of telling others how to do their jobs, they ask their employees how they can help leaders achieve goals. They encourage new approaches and respect innovative ideas by fashioning low-risk spaces where employees don’t feel stifled; this allows workers to expand their mental boundaries and to become more interactive.
At first, employees might not understand how to react to servant leadership. Since they’re used to the intimidation of anyone with more corporate power, it will take time to overcome the fear of disciplinary action. However, the positive results that are gained under humble leadership will speak for themselves.
Not every team is able to achieve harmony from the start. For most, a few kinks in productivity are bound to appear. This is a necessary step, as temporary setbacks are often a byproduct of experimentation. After all, it’s impossible for a team to reach peak potential without first hashing out the strengths and weaknesses of each member. Occasionally, however, initial issues may stagnate into serious problems. Progress falters. In such a case, it might be found that the chemistry between a manager and his or her team simply didn’t mesh. It may be decided that a new leader is needed: you.
Taking the helm of a troubled team is not your typical leadership challenge. If you’re elected to fill the place of a failed supervisor, you’ll be dealing with a team on high alert for any sign of incompetence. First impressions will be vital. Within a brief span, teammates’ snap judgements will dictate whether they believe you’re genuine, talented and worthy of respect. But this situation isn’t as sticky as some may think. In fact, with a bit of preemptive planning, it’s a major advantage. The following are four steps on how to win over subordinates early, and kickstart a stalling team into serious gear.
Schedule Individual Meetings ASAP
It’s impossible to fix a broken mechanism without first understanding its parts. An ailing team is no different. Use one-on-one meetings to learn what motivates each member to do their job and pinpoint whatever problems are holding them back. Showing a little personal interest in subordinates’ lives doesn’t hurt either. Have these meetings as soon as possible to avoid sowing doubt in your ability to take productive action.
Meet with Stakeholders
Anyone with a critical stake in your team’s success needs to realize that change is happening. It doesn’t matter how damaged their relationship to your team was previously; as new leader, you are afforded at least an opportunity to make things right. It’s up to you to inform stakeholders—without delay—that you intend to make full use of that opportunity.
Work in Your Organization’s Vision
You’re here to correct the direction of your team, which is difficult unless you know where you’re going. Network and chat with upper management to obtain a clear general roadmap, in the form of your company’s 18-month vision. Understand the course your company plans to take, and you’ll be able to maneuver team efforts toward organizational goals through a customized, team-specific 18-month plan.
Hold a Team Optimization Session
Put into practice the information gathered throughout previous steps during a team-wide optimization session. Share company goals and team-specific strategies, assign clear and precise individual roles, and present a reasonable timeline for delivery. Establish what kind of support your subordinates will require from you, and have teammates commit to reciprocating that support through their own efforts. To maintain the rhythm your team has likely developed upon successful completion of these steps, plan for incremental follow up sessions to check teammates’ progress and work out any remaining issues.
It’s easy to equate poor leadership with qualities like paranoid hypersensitivity, willingness to abuse power, narcissism, or an abject fear of risk and challenge. Leaders who exhibit these behaviors are often rooted out quickly, as it may be difficult to miss such blatant displays of incompetence without turning a blind eye. But worse, perhaps, than the obviously terrible leaders are those who do absolutely nothing. They might not be manipulating employees into doing their work or stealing company resources, but they avoid meaningful engagement to such a degree that even calling them leaders is a misnomer.
Absentee leadership is the most common form of supervisor incompetence according to a study published in the British Journal of Management. Their inability to perform is a direct result of absentee leaders’ aversion to productive team involvement. They embrace a laissez-faire philosophy to a destructive degree, often offering no more than hollow praise, even to employees in critical need of constructive guidance. A form of rent-seeking, absenteeism involves accepting all the trappings and perks of leadership, while providing no value in return.
For some employees—especially those working under an overly manipulative or micromanaging boss—having a hands-off manager might seem like a dream. However, data suggests that the employees who actually have to deal with absent leadership feel strongly otherwise. A survey of 1,000 workers found that eight of the top nine employee complaints about leaders involved absentee leadership. Not recognizing achievements, failing to give clear direction and refusing to talk to subordinates were just a few of the absent behaviors that employees listed as typical of bad managers.
It’s easy to ignore the effects of absentee leaders, as there are relatively few that can be directly tied to them. Taken individually, none of their actions result in any significant negative impact, so they tend to skate by under the radar. Unlike the havoc unleashed by the overtly incompetent, damage from absentee leaders builds slowly over time. But according to a 2015 study on the long-term impacts of poor management on employee job satisfaction, the ill-effects of absentee leadership are actually more harmful overall than tyrannical leadership practices.
The study revealed that worker satisfaction declined immediately under tyrant leaders, and remained low for around six months. Absentee management, on the other hand, took longer to have an effect, but eroded subordinate satisfaction for at least two years; in addition, absenteeism was linked to detrimental worker outcomes such as health complaints and infighting among teammates.
Absentee leadership is pervasive; from the shadows of complacency it manifests, eating away at progress company-wide. Organizations concerned for their future should prioritize strong recruitment and promotion policies that weed out absenteeism, and replace it with constructive leadership.
About Scott Avila
When Scott Avila began his career, the restructuring industry didn’t exist. Today, however, Scott has more than 25 years of experience helping to set struggling companies on a path to success. He’s worked in a wide range of roles at distressed companies across a variety of industries. He believes true change doesn’t always start with an answer, but instead, with a question: Investors, leaders, and companies need to ask themselves what issues they face as well as what they’re doing–or not doing–in order to turn their goals into realities.
Scott Avila is the CEO of Armory Strategic Partners, where he specializes in restructuring companies in the middle market and helping them to increase profits, grow, and build cohesive team cultures. Prior to this position, he was a Principal in Deloitte’s Corporate Restructuring Group and a Managing Partner at CRG Partners Group prior to its sale to Deloitte in 2012.
These roles often required Scott Avila to step in and assume leadership of companies, and in fact, he has served as chief restructuring officer (CRO) at a $250 million international motorcycle products manufacturer and distributor, a $250 million branded apparel manufacturer and distributor, CRO and chief operating officer (COO) of a $900 million international leasing and computer reseller, an advisor to a $12 billion farm cooperative, and many other companies. He has also worked across a broad spectrum of industries such as media, publishing, telecommunications, energy, healthcare, finance, and many others.
After working at different firms across various industries, Scott Avila is a firm believer that a business’ culture helps to shape its success. Some of the strongest companies are those with mission-based cultures where achieving the company’s mission is the highest priority for all employees. In fact, one of the first things Scott likes to do when stepping into a new company is make sure that everyone understands the mission and is ready to make it a reality.
Scott Avila earned his B.B.A. from California State University and his M.B.A. from the University of Southern California. He currently lives with his family in California, where he frequently writes and lectures on a number of topics related to restructuring.
More About Scott
Scott Avila has held membership in numerous professional organizations. He has assumed interim executive or advisory roles in various restructuring projects for companies including but not limited to:
-A $250 million branded apparel manufacturer and distributor
-A $900 million international leasing and computer reseller
-An independent TV and movie production facility
Scott earned his B.B.A. at California State University, Hayward and his M.B.A. at the University of Southern California.