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Five leadership qualities your staff are looking for

Leaders and managers have come under sustained criticism recently, as reports amass showing that they are too focused on technical skills, under-educated in management theory and practice (compared to their counterparts around the world) and poor communicators.

Great!

At LeadingCompany, we strive to provide a practical approach to the challenges of management and so were delighted to see a recent survey of 3800 leaders, managers and employees revealing exactly what it is that staff want to hear from their leaders and how they want to have these messages communicated.

The survey is conducted by the training organisation, Leadership Management Australasia. It's a "rolling survey" and results in a report three times a year.

The survey participants include 261 senior managers or business leaders, 443 middle managers or supervisors, and 3,127 non-managerial employees (more demographic details below).

Here's are five things that your employees want to hear you say (and the full list of characteristics of a good manager):

1. Tell me clearly where our company is going, our goals and vision.

The survey notes that employees were feeling more optimistic about growth six months ago, but redundancies, falling production schedules and reduced overtime have changed their view.

LMA chairman, Grant Sexton, says: "Employees today are like customers have always been: they only go where they want to go, and they stay where they are appreciated. If we are not creating the right environment at work, they will slack off or go somewhere else."

There is a potential for leaders and managers to create a sense of unity and common purpose, the report found, by garnering employee support for the recovery plan.

Leaders need to communicate regularly about the organisation's future in a reassuring way. "What the manager needs to communicate is, hey, you are doing a great job and your job is secure, we have a great future in mind for you."

If the uncertainty makes that difficult, leaders can provide clear future points when more details will be shared. "Employees will value the honesty that comes with knowing as much as they can about their future – they are after all people first, employees second," the report says.

Sexton says explain the problems, and the short-term and long-term response and then ask, "What part do you want to play and how can we support you?"

2. Give me honest feedback on how I am performing

Failing to pick up on poor performance is one of the big criticisms of Australian managers.

Sexton says this is because it conveys a message to the underperforming employee that they are not important. "Think back to kids," he says. "When kids are naughty and their parents don't respond, they think they are not loved. Feedback makes people feel appreciated.

"Staff want to know, did I do that well or what do I need to fix, but are unlikely to ask."

Leaders must take the lead. "If someone does a bad job, you need to say, 'Look, Bill, I am not happy with that, so let's talk it through and let's see what we need to change to do it better next time'," says Sexton.

3. Listen to me, and show that you respect my input into decisions

Input is both a formal and informal process, says Sexton. "Real ideas about improving processes or reducing waste can only come from the people on the front line, doing it," he says. The process of coming up with innovations is ongoing.

"If the ideas are adopted, then there is pat on the back," he says. "If not, you say, 'Charlie thanks for that, we are not in a position to adopt that idea now, but we really appreciate your input.' Otherwise, the ideas just dry up."

If the company needs to make a major change, the whole team should be approached for input. Leaders need to explain that they want to make a change, and why, and then open up as to how best we can achieve these outcomes.

"If they are participating, they are part of the solution and we are all in this together. If you say, we made a decision and you will comply, it creates a situation of adversity and conflict."

During the GFC, many companies found that staff preferred to drop hours across the board than see some people lose their jobs entirely.

Leaders can offer alternatives that enable the workforce to decide their future, consider new models of work, new approaches to common or familiar issues and invite the thoughts and inputs of all to build a future that helps everyone, the report suggests.

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