November 26, 2008

Are managers a health risk for their employees?

Companies seem very interested these days in saving healthcare costs. So here's a new hitch---pay more attention to the Manager-Employee relationship. It saves money in reduced healthcare costs. It also appears to save lives.

A Swedish study by Anna Nyberg, a psychologist at Karolinska Institute's Department of Public Health Sciences in Stockholm, established a clear link between management style and employee health. This study looked at 3,122 men over a period of close to a decade and found that employees who see their managers as passive, uncommunicative and inconsiderate were more likely to suffer from heart attacks. Those who thought well of their bosses were less likely to have cardiac problems. In essence, the better the relationship, the lower the risk.

When discussing this new study over the dinner table, my 22 year old son said it best. He said, "Well, Duh!"

I have discussed the Manager-Employee relationship in other blog postings and articles, usually focused on the value of a positive working relationship to ensure employee engagement, productivity and retention of valued staff. Now it seems there is another reason companies should pay close attention to this critical relationship--it may help reduce the costs associated with medical problems.

Most "lousy" managers are not evil people. They may be professionals who were stellar employees as individual contributors who were promoted without the proper training to excel in the new management role. Being a high-performing scientist, software engineer, financial analyst, physician or other role that requires technical knowledge and expertise does not necessarily prepare you for managing people. There is a new set of skills required and they largely center on communicating and interacting with others.

Sometimes "lousy" managers are themselves too stressed out with the multiple challenges faced in today's complex, ever-changing business environment. Maybe they do not have great relationships with their managers, and so on and so on.

Changing this cascading effect of poor management-employee relationships requires a strong message from the top that managing people--having an open, trusting and productive relationship with your direct reports---is a priority. It is the right thing to do, it is cost-effective and it may save lives.

November 18, 2008

The era of the Post-Heroic Leader?

Put your politics aside for a minute and take a look at the personal qualities of our new President-elect Barack Obama. Does he appear to reflect a new style of leadership?

Early on, I worried that we didn't know much about the man since he was fairly new on the national scene. However, as the political season dragged on (and on and on) I found myself intrigued. My initial he just a good speaker? the press being too nice? he lacking in experience?.....were replaced by a sort of fascination with his consistency.  His consistent use of the word "we" rather than "I". His consistently calm manner. His tendency to take the long view, and see the big picture. His thoughtful, reflective style which involved seeking advice from others rather than being reactive, impulsive or self-focused. 

For those unfamiliar, the current thinking in leadership development has focused on  the concept of Heroic vs. Post-Heroic Leadership.  Heroic leadership describes leaders who see themselves as solely responsible for the actions and results of their companies/countries/communities.  They are in essence "Heroes" who are expected to take all the responsibility and blame as well as all the credit.  We tend to glorify heroes but, of course, when they don't live up to our expectations we are inevitably disappointed.

The Post-Heroic Leader, however, is more collaborative and relies much more upon the people he/she is surrounded by. Post-Heroic leaders are more apt to listen to, engage and seek the opinions of others realizing the best ideas sometimes come from unanticipated places.

When comparing John McCain and Barack Obama one cannot avoid the Heroic vs. Post-Heroic comparison, especially given that John McCain is a true American War Hero. 

The results of the U.S. presidential election were definitive but still relatively close in numbers if you consider 46% to 52% popular vote. And there are many factors which help to explain these results. But I do find myself it possible that we are indeed moving into the era of Post-Heroic Leadership? I guess we will find out soon enough!