Rich McLaughlin, a business consultant based in Yardley, has been training leaders for more than 20 years and has seen what works and what doesn’t when it comes to effective leadership.
He will speak at the Human Resources Management Association of Princeton on Monday, June 12, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Princeton. Tickets are $50. For more information, visit hrma-nj.shrm.org.
McLaughlin grew up in Collingswood, where his parents were high school graduates whom he describes as “humble folks” who were laborers and lucky enough to be able to send him to the College of New Jersey.
He went right into business consulting after school and, knowing that it would be tough to convince a bunch of experienced businesspeople to take a 22-year-old seriously, he developed an approach to his seminars that asked them to share their experiences with one another. “That got a good response, and going forward, I looked for more and more ways to do that,” he says. Since then he has worked interactive approaches into the training and development courses that he teaches in various businesses and industries.
In this role he has seen the difficulties faced by both leaders and followers alike. In a recent post on his blog, at liminalsolutions.com, he called for a bit more understanding.
A request for all the Dilbert- loving employees out there …
I remember when Dilbert first came onto the national consciousness in the early ’90s. A friend of mine who wrote for Industry Week at the time asked me if I was aware of this cartoon series and I said I was and that I was a huge fan. He asked me to give him a quote for his column and I remember saying something about Dilbert “tapping into the collective angst of the employee experience in a humorous way.” I think we have all gotten a chuckle watching Dilbert poke fun at the leaders and managers in his “organization..
But maybe it’s time to cease and desist. Having worked with leaders for the last 20 years, I can tell you 90 percent of them show up for work every day (much like employees do) trying to do their best. Sure there are always some awful exceptions, but they are not the rule. Our leaders are imperfect human beings, and sometimes I think we expect too much of them. If you want an example of the unrealistic expectations we put on leaders, just watch the 2016 presidential race to see people cheer for and project all manner of hopes and desires onto their candidate. Of course it doesn’t help that the candidates feed into that, but I think in most organizations we find leaders who are doing their best to be the leader their team wants, but sometimes find it an exhausting endeavor.
Let’s look at a few of the expectations employees have of leaders that may need to be reexamined.
“When are they going to give us a clear signal as to what we’re trying to do and where we’re going?” Seems like a reasonable request, but in this ever changing, interconnected world, don’t be surprised if they don’t know the answer to that question. Most are counting on you and others out in the “field” to give some guidance here. It’s not that they don’t want to give you one, clear, unifying message about what to do, it’s more often that they can’t. What they are most often communicating is “we have some ideas but we’re not sure if they will pan out and we need your help to test them out.” Another reason they often can’t help much here has to do with where they “sit.” If they are at HQ, they are further from where the real action is in terms of customers using your product or service. How can we expect them to know what’s really going on? We have to own up to our end of the collusion with them to manipulate data about “what’s going on out here” as it works its way from the field to HQ.
“What is my career pathway here?” Another seemingly reasonable request. Partly this is an issue of priorities. Sorry, but building a career path for people is very low on most leaders’ list of things to get done. Many are too preoccupied wondering about their own future. Most employees at some point figure out that they will have to create their own career path.
This issue also gets complicated by whether the organization is growing or not. If the organization is not growing, should leaders create artificial titles and levels of hierarchy so people can feel like their career is progressing? How does that serve the organization? Does it make us more efficient and effective? At the end of the day, when answering an employee about “what do I need to do to move up here?” a leader’s best response might be something along the lines of “I can tell you what I did, but that doesn’t mean if you do this you’ll get the same result.”
“What about motivation? My leader is not very inspiring.” Why is it up to your leader to inspire you? Can’t you find your own inspiration? We can certainly ask leaders not to do things that are demotivating, but at the end of the day we’re each responsible for deciding how much we want to engage with the work and people around us, even if the work is not particularly “inspiring.” Let’s let go of the notion that leaders are there to inspire us.
“How come you don’t communicate changes more quickly?” While there may be more worthiness to this grievance than the others, I think this is more accidental than intentional. Very often, leaders assume they, or someone, has already communicated information, or that “things are still up in the air” so there’s no need to say anything yet.
There is also some validity to this charge because there is power in information and sometimes leaders do hold onto things longer than they should — usually based on a fear that “employees can’t handle it.” A patronizing stance that leaders should be called on. Again though, I think those are the exceptions rather than the rule and most leaders are trying to be as transparent as they can be.
In the meantime my fellow Dilbert fans, be the leader you wish you had.