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A great test of leadership is the attitude any business or organisation has towards its most important asset, its people.

Keep the gold in the ground, the cars in the factory and the ideas in the box…they’re going nowhere without the people to manage, create or produce it. This truth seems to be increasingly lost in today’s management culture, where people can often be treated more as “resources” than as “human”.

Heartfelt values of accountability, trust and honesty between employer and employee are often exchanged for legalistic EBA’s, code’s of conduct and policy manuals. The effects of this attitude in an organisation can be reflected in poor morale and an atmosphere of distrust and hostility.

You may have come across those corporate leaders who place a higher value on controlling people rather than building them, place greater priority on performance over relationship and seek personal glory rather than helping the people around them kick their own goals.

A Florida State University study in 2007 found that a staggering 40% of people felt they worked for bad bosses. I’m sure there a few people in that lot who would be unhappy with whoever their manager was, but it’s likely the majority have a legitimate axe to grind. The leading reasons for rating their boss as “bad” from survey participants were that the boss:

1. Failed to keep their promises,

2. Didn’t give them the credit they deserved, and,

3. Blamed them or other workers to cover up personal mistakes.

Interestingly, none of these reasons relate to the boss’s ability to produce a graph in Excel or develop a business plan, but all relate to how the leader treated his staff as people.

I wonder if we’d see a change in the manager’s approach if annual reviews and salary increases were assessed by the staff they managed rather than someone in “head office”?

International leadership coach and New York Times bestseller John Maxwell offers some insight into staff attrition rates when he states that “people don’t leave organisations, they leave people”.

Studies have indicated that bosses who create a positive work environment and relate well with staff have more productive employees who are more willing to work extra hours or go the extra mile for the company.

There are some great examples of people focused leadership out there. Some time ago my wife’s supervisor rang me in the morning. Pouring with rain, he was concerned that she hadn’t arrived at work in Maffra and was just checking everything was ok. Wow! Now there’s a guy who genuinely cares. Not about the 8.30 start time policy…but about the person. By the way…he was ringing from the Melbourne office!

It’s important that we achieve results, reach KPI’s and produce outputs, but those goals will be met faster and more consistently if we are genuinely considerate of the way we treat the people who are getting us those results.

Within an organisation, an individual can take a battering emotionally and mentally from a range of pressures, demands and expectations. The leadership style of the manager can have a dramatic effect on the ability of the individual to cope with or be drowned by these pressures. Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that employees’ blood pressure rose when they were managed by someone they considered to be “unreasonable”. Supervisors need to be aware, responsible and accountable for the impact their management style is having on their staff.

I always laugh at the story of my friend who, after being treated like a sack of potatoes for over 12 months by the hierarchy, eventually called a meeting with management and told them he had “decided to let them go!” It’s good to remember, we always have the choice to stay or not.

Here’s hoping you arrive at work today under the guidance of someone who sees you as a person, not just a position on the org chart or a bum on a seat.


– Michael Rowell