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Unas spotlight: Why are only one in 20 bosses a good leader?

One in 20 bosses. That’s only 5%. According to this research cited in Management Today, for every company that has 20 bosses (your average 200-300 employee firm), only one of them is likely to be a good boss. For a public sector body with say 5000 employees, it may have 25 good bosses. Puts things into perspective wouldn’t you say?

How on earth does this happen in today’s world when it would be easy to think that businesses understand the value of developing their people? It’s not like there aren’t any books on the subject or even free information out there on the good ol’ web…

I’ve pulled together these critical danger points for you to look at for yourself and/or to work through with the leaders and managers in your organisation. They come from my personal experience and learning so I’m not saying this is all there is to it, please add your own insights too in the comments:

Critical Danger Points

Not understanding that different people need different approaches so they treat all people the same.

This can come from a genuine wish to do well by others, so many of us learned “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Treating people with kindness and compassion makes you a good person. Giving all your direct reports public praise and recognition may not make you a good manager though – some will love it and others may be mortified. The same applies to how much time you spend handholding and ‘helping’ your team. Some may really appreciate help, others will just feel micro-managed and that you don’t trust them.


Not ensuring people work to their strengths and talents.

The evidence is overwhelming on this point. When managers and their teams really get how to leverage their talents across the team (and between them and other teams in the organisation) not only does productivity and effectiveness go up, motivation and engagement usually increases too.

Underestimating the importance of good people management the higher up the ladder they go.

I’ve heard several HR people talk as though senior leaders don’t need to focus so much on their people management skills because their direct reports are also more senior and should know what they’re doing. Maybe so, however, there are some other factors to consider. Their direct reports are people too and they have the same emotional needs as any person does. Remember “All the world’s a stage” and people are watching how senior managers manage to get clues about what is really valued by the big bosses, no matter what leaders say. So maybe it’s more important the higher up they go as they get to influence a greater sphere of people. After all, people do as you do, not as you say..

They lack self-awareness 

As cited in the Management Today article self-awareness is very important. Imagine a leader talking at a staff conference about people coming forward with ideas and interacting when they had shouted at people only a few minutes earlier? Leaders and mangers may believe that their past successes were all down to them and discount the contribution of others. Nothing rankles so much with people as when blame and credit are unfairly attributed. There may be times when us development and HR peeps have to bite the bullet and help leaders to understand the impact of their behaviour – get your CV ready and tread carefully though, not all leaders will want to hear it because…

They simply don’t care and purposely choose a domineering or bullying stance

because they believe that’s what gets results. It will definitely get results; the ones where people do a lot of politicking to stay on their right side. The kind of results where people won’t pass on valuable data for decision-making because it conflicts with what they know or think the leader wants to hear. This not caring often results in the best people leaving the business at the first opportunity because they’re not allowed to do their best work. The research cited in the article found that 47% of respondents felt threatened at work, instead of praised… The end result of all this is usually a downward spiral for the organisation.

They don’t manage change very well.

Any research on change will indicate that participation and communication are the two most important elements of successful change. Yet time and time again bosses don’t do either very well. All too often in my experience decisions are made without genuine interaction with others in the organisation. Often those making the decisions on changes don’t know what really goes on in the level of detail that team members do. Give people a chance to input BEFORE decisions are made. Not all change will be good for each individual in the business but for those that it is make sure to communicate that as well as why the change is so vital in the first place. Then communicate that again and again and again and again until people complain that they’ve heard this message several times now!

The business hasn’t got the right leader in the right place at the right time.

In the way that team members will get to perform at their best when they get to work to their strengths, the same applies to leaders and managers too. Yet more than this, each leader will have a time and place in the organisation that is most suited to their talents. When a leader is great at innovating and problem solving, don’t put them in charge of customer service because they are likely to innovate their way out of service issues. This is especially true when the business (or product) is at the point where it is building a solid customer base. In the same way, a leader who is great at managing risk is not going to excel if the organisation really needs to boost the performance of its staff. In addition, the economy goes through cycles (or seasons) too and this also influences who is best to lead at a particular point in time. You don’t want the person who was so good at tightening your belts to restrict growth when the economy turns from Winter to Spring.

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