In the period after the late US President Ronald Reagan championed the words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” many organisations began to tear down some of their own walls.
As a child, I can distinctly recall visiting my mother’s company and seeing the “bigwigs” in their lush offices, with middle-management and other senior staff taking residence in their slightly less decadent digs. Of course there was still that vast space on the floor filled with cubicles, however even the cubicles had their temporary walls nearly touching the ceiling… oh how times have changed.
In the many different offices I’ve visited over the years, the one commonality is the strategic shift toward openness. Sure, cubicles still exist, but they are often set up in more collaborative ways; the walls between employees are low or nonexistent, and rather than the sharp clicking of keyboards and telephones, there is also the sound of radios and employee chatter. Management may still reside in offices, but they are more a part of the team than in the days of yore. Yes, it’s a new world out there, full of open work environments, flexible schedules, casual attire and telecommuting.
With all of these changes, a new challenge has arisen for those in leadership positions. When offices still resembled those out of a Clark Gable movie, there was a very clear division between leaders and their employees. Working your way up to the “big office” was a coveted accomplishment. Now, with organisational hierarchies that are more flat, those in leadership positions are often challenged to keep leadership alive. If you’re asking yourself this question, consider these thoughts.
Ask anyone to define great leadership and somewhere on their top ten lists will be communication. This goes beyond the ability to clearly and succinctly provide guidance on the work that’s being done. Effective leaders are able to both communicate a clear vision and listen to their employees. This two-way street is essential for employee engagement, productivity and retention of top talent. Yes, making sure that the work gets done is essential; however, having an open ear can be the difference between good leadership and greatness.
In the modern business environment, if you manage remote employees, communication may only occur regularly via the phone or teleconference. This lack of face time is sometimes a difficult hurdle to leap, but you should work to conduct yourself in the same manner with them as those who may be just down the hall. If you’re not communicating regularly with your remote employees just because they’re not filling up at the coffee machine with you, the relationship and their perception of you as a leader may diminish.
Managers of yesteryear didn’t have to rely on trust – if I had written these words fifty years ago, they may have been met with hysterical laughter. Office doors opened at the same time for everyone – suits, ties and the like would have clothed the businesspeople as they shuffled toward their desks, and the use of the term “flex-time” would have been met with squinty eyes and a tilted head. Today, many employees enjoy the freedom to begin their days at varying shifts and many others have a thirty-second commute across their home to the room where they work. With all this variance in schedules, it can be worrisome for some managers as they see this as a lack of control – and this is a tough mindset to break.
We’ve all heard the term micromanager. When you read these words, did your mind go to all things warm and fuzzy? My guess is that you’ve experience the dreaded micromanager that caused your blood pressure and heart rate to elevate. Prosperous leaders know that having trust in their employees to get the work done is crucial. Sure, you may not see one of your project managers, engineers or salespeople each day – or maybe each month, but if you’ve set goals and communicated them to your team you should put your worry aside, lest productivity is slipping.
Maintaining a strong culture can be the glue that holds your teams together even though they may not all collaborate within the same walls or during the same hours. Today’s leaders still need to be able to lead with authority and by example, but there is an element of ministration whereby part of your duties should aim to capture the spirit of your organisation and keep enthusiasm, values, brand and culture at the top of your employees’ minds.
One of the great challenges of leading within global organisations is rooted in the fact that employees may be scattered across offices, both corporate and home, all over the globe. Conforming to a typical nine to five may not be realistic for many leaders. Meetings at midnight, from the airport terminal or even in the back of a taxi are necessities for many who manage. While your availability may require an amaranthine work ethic, remember to maintain your own work-life balance. If your workday finds itself spread across 12 hours, consider “sprints” where you allow yourself time to rejuvenate.
Leadership in today’s fast-paced business world has many challenges – several of which are related directly to the way we interact with our employees. While often underestimated, management within these new norms must work diligently in an effort to retain top talent while still maintaining and increasing productivity with their particular market. Each situation will merit its own review, but if you’re struggling to keep a grip on the day-to-day, recognising and evaluating the challenges I’ve laid out can help you improve overall morale, authority and stability.