How to help accidental managers

You won’t achieve much through your managers if you don’t sharpen their soft skills

Enhancing soft skills is the real route to leadership success. In a hyper-competitive world it is also essential to the success of your business.

While almost every advanced nation is struggling with stagnant productivity, the issue is particularly bad in Britain where there has been little growth in almost a decade. As a result employees must work about a day-and-a-half longer than their German counterparts to achieve the same economic output.

At the heart of the problem is that four out of five British bosses are 'accidental managers' – people who've been promoted because they are good at their jobs but have never been trained how to lead.

For one of my books I commissioned YouGov to identify the management behaviours that enable high performance. High performance comes from people and teams who are not only engaged in their work but are willing to go the extra mile. They are so inspired that they regularly and willingly give the discretionary effort that delivers extraordinary results.

From the YouGov research, these are the top eight things managers do to discourage and demotivate their staff. All of them involve poor soft skills. Improvements in these areas could result in huge uplifts in motivation and performance.

Failing to bring the outside in

Employees want to know how what they do makes a difference to the people they serve. The best leaders either regularly bring customers in to talk with their people, or constantly communicate about customer experiences and expectations.

Not showing they understand employee perspectives

Many managers fail to acknowledge how people are feeling. It is amazing how people feel better when you say you understand them, even if you don't agree or have reasons for making decisions that might not be popular.

Demonstrating little commitment to the organisation's purpose

Employees want to feel that they are working to a purpose that is about more than just making a profit. They want to feel they are making a difference in the world. Managers who don't reinforce this disconnect them from a purpose that otherwise might be hugely inspiring.

Failing to define and review goals that align with the organisation's purpose

One of the most important things a manager can do is show employees how what they are doing contributes to the organisation’s purpose. Setting goals that clearly align with corporate goals is vital for employees to feel connected. The more often those goals are reviewed the higher the performance.

Never listening (or making people think they don’t)

People feel much more respected and valued when they are listened to. When leaders are good listeners they pick up great ideas from their staff and respond to them. They welcome bad news in order to take corrective action, and they will guide opinions because they are better informed about how people are feeling.

Not living the values of the organisation consistently

People who know the values of the organisation and who know the purpose, are able to make decisions without the boss being there. But leaders who are inconsistent about values sew confusion, doubt and inefficiency into the fabric of their teams.

Seeming to be dishonest and insincere

Only two-thirds of staff believe their managers are honest, with a third actively disagreeing. Doing what you say you will do, living the values, doing what you expect others to do – these all go into how employees perceive managers and they may unwittingly be failing into some or all of these areas.

Not making employees feel important and appreciated

This was by far the most important soft skill. Neuroscience shows that people who are made to feel worthy, and who are respected, cared for and nurtured, are far more likely to be super performers, to go the extra mile, and to be loyal and committed employees. Managers who inadvertently disrespect their staff, or who deliberately or accidentally make them feel threatened or unworthy, quickly demotivate their staff and lose the performance edge so crucial to success.

So what can you do to improve key soft skills?

  • Provide a lot more training. Look at areas such as effective written and verbal communication, teamwork, cultural understanding and psychology. Make a writing or public speaking course essential for every manager to boost communication skills.
  • Encourage more reading. Buy and distribute books on the subject, search the internet for everything you can find and share with managers; encourage them to work hard to put what they learn into practice.
  • Provide a lot more mentors. Hook new managers up with people they admire to learn more about how they lead.

Kevin Murray is a leadership coach, public speaker, and author of three books on how to inspire employees – The Language of Leaders, Communicate to Inspire, and People with Purpose