SUPERVISORS WHO FAIL TO TAKE EMPLOYEES' STRENGTHS, INTERESTS INTO ACCOUNT MAY
BE HURTING THE BOTTOM LINE
By CAROL HYMOWITZ, Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The hardest thing for executives to assess is how effectively they lead others. Their bosses are more likely to judge them on how well they meet profit goals and other quantifiable targets, rather than on how well they develop talent.
Their employees, fearful of retribution, won't tell them when they quash initiative, communicate poorly or behave intolerantly.
Yet bosses who fail to evaluate how they are perceived by subordinates are likely to miss the chance to become inspiring leaders and to hinder their own success.
"It's very rare to find a natural-born leader," says Gerald Chamales, founder and chairman of Rhinotek Computer Products, a Carson, Calif., manufacturer of inkjet and laser cartridges.
He learned to tap into employees' passions and strengths, and get the best out of them, only after realizing that he was failing as a boss. "It was emotional pain, and recognizing that what I was doing wasn't working, that caused me to change," he says.
Twenty years ago, when he founded Rhinotek in an apartment he was renting in Venice Beach, Calif., Mr. Chamales says he was "completely green" about management and so fell into a dictatorial style. "If an employee showed up at work a few minutes late or didn't come back from a break on time, I would withhold my approval on work he was doing," he says.
Tension would develop between the two, subsequently causing the employee to be less productive. "I was getting the opposite behavior that I wanted," he says.
He also threw temper tantrums, screaming at employees who didn't follow orders or who failed to measure up to his standards. His command-and-control style proved costly. "I alienated and lost a lot of good people," says Mr. Chamales, who recently turned 50.
Eventually, he began asking himself whether he was the cause of his company's high turnover. He decided to try other tactics. Rather than demand that employees do things in a particular way, he learned what they enjoyed and could devote themselves to wholeheartedly. "I started to see that being a leader means playing off people's strengths instead of reprimanding them about their weaknesses," he adds.
He also saw that different employees required different styles of leadership. "Some people are motivated by achievement, some by a little fear, others by money and many by recognition," he says. Today, Rhinotek recognizes an outstanding employee from each department every month with a bonus check and achievement plaque; every year one top-performing employee is named and rewarded.
Mr. Chamales started to take time to walk around his office and plant floor, eliciting feedback from his 200 employees. "I've done everything in this company from sweeping the floors to typing invoices, yet it's important to have humility and realize that the people doing the jobs have the solutions," says Mr. Chamales, who has seen employee turnover at his company decline dramatically in recent years.
When things don't go his way, Mr. Chamales no longer loses his temper. He says he just takes a deep breath or takes a break from a meeting, instead of letting his anger grow.
Many bosses don't understand the consequences of treating employees poorly -- taking credit for their contributions, for example, or humiliating them in front of others.
"They get away with all sorts of incivility and never recognize how their behavior hurts the bottom line," says Kevin Schmidt, founder and president of Envisionworks, a management and employee-relations consultant based in Geneva, Ill.
To help companies identify weak or tyrannical managers, Envisionworks has compiled an Organizational Civility Index which surveys employees on how they treat each other. The index asks, for example, if employees are reprimanded when they "are rude or disrespectful to other employees," and whether colleagues "shout at each other and block each other's success" or "compliment each others' work."
Most companies that score poorly on the civility index are headed by executives who put harsh demands on employees and belittle rather than praise staff, Mr. Schmidt says.
"Yet I've never met a monster boss yet," he adds. "When I tell them, 'It must be awfully hard to be you because people hate you,' they often break down."
Lillian King, a consultant at Mercer Delta in New York, says bosses can learn to avoid intimidating behavior. In a previous job at another company, she once walked out of a meeting because of her boss's actions. "He started peeling the skin off of another employee in front of me. I told him, 'This isn't a conversation you should have in front of anyone else,' and it didn't happen again," she says.
But even a reformed bully may find a bad reputation hard to shake. "They may always be seen as who they have been rather than who they have become," says Ms. King. "They may need to take their changed selves to a new company."
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