Impulse 21. Digital Leadership – Be Ready for Fast-Paced Change

My book The Unpopular Boss – Why Excellent Leaders Are Not Nice has received some criticism. It’s content is not new and therefore, according to some, is nothing more than grandstanding.

I think this is true – to some extent. Of course I do not claim to have reinvented the wheel. At the same time, I stand by the fact that the approaches given in the book lead to excellent leadership, even in our increasingly digital age. However, even though these ideas are well established, they are increasingly being ignored by many leaders. Yet, in times of fast-paced change, the leadership behaviors detailed in this book are more important than ever.

By the way, you don’t even have to buy the book. You can learn all the knowledge contained in my books for free in my blog, podcast, and videos.

What do leaders need in today’s world of work?

Let’s look at the statistics: 97% of all bosses believe that they are good leaders. At the same time 7 out of 10 employees say they have had a bad leader. Something is not quite right there!

What’s more, 1 out of 5 employees in Germany are currently thinking of resigning because of their boss. Add to that the number of employees who might not yet be considering throwing in the towel, but who are not satisfied with their boss and would never give him a good grade.

The consequences are clear: Leaders who think they are good tend to keep their mediocre leadership habits, and thereby reduce the creative power of their team.

Feedback = essential leadership behavior 

The first tip from this series on Digital Leadership is on “Feedback for Leaders”. Leaders simply have to know which of their behaviors motivate their employees to apply themselves and become engaged, and which behavior has the opposite effect. This is because they create the framework conditions and the atmosphere in the team, which in turn influences the daily performance abilities of the employees.

Only if leaders are intimately aware of their stronger and weaker behaviors can they consciously work on strengthening the positive behaviors and changing their negative behaviors.

This need for feedback is particularly important because not every type of leadership behavior is equally good or equally bad for each individual employee. Also, people tend to react differently to different professional or personal challenges. Therefore, there needs to be a regular dialogue between the leader and the employees, one that is continuously open for discussion.

Good leadership = connecting with employees

If your employees are challenged and supported by you in the correct manner, then they will only produce better results. These employees will also stay with the team for longer, which will reduce your recruiting costs and strengthen the team’s productivity and innovation.

Digital Leadership – what is it?

On the one hand, Digital Leadership means leadership behavior as has long been known – albeit not actually implemented. For example, it has long been recognized as a good idea to have employees thinking along, making decisions, and taking part in the planning. There are leaders who have been doing this, and leaders who still do not.

Yet today there is an increasing demand for leaders to include employees in what is happening and to allow them to help shape it. Employees demand this, and indeed nowadays they tend to be much more independent, proactive, and effective. They do not respond well to hierarchical, authoritarian leadership as they find it unsuitable and demotivating.

What else is essential in the context of Digital Leadership?

Today the markets are developing more quickly than ever before, both regarding the offers of other market participants and the requirements of customers.

That means that both leaders and employees must react with increasing speed to the changes in order to stay competitive. This, however, can only happen if leaders and employees are in lively exchange with each other and there is always – especially in times of change – a common understanding, and for this good communication and teamwork is essential.

But when leaders – unconsciously – demotivate workers or are not even aware of the negative consequences of their unsuitable leadership behavior, then the necessary drive of the employees is missing because the boss is the fly in the ointment.

Why is this important?

Especially in times of intensive change, which automatically lead to – partially hidden –insecurities among employees, this intensive exchange between the employees and the boss becomes important.

If an employee is stressed by work or for other, personal reasons, or is feeling frustrated or insecure, then an open conversation with the boss can help. The employee feels that the boss is not leaving him alone with his worries.

Together, managers and their employees can find solutions to challenges.

However, such open conversations can only take place if the leader ensures a working environment that encourages open exchange – a further argument for this practice – that includes “feedback for leaders”.

If this exchange does not occur, then the employees will share their worries, insecurities, and fear only with themselves, with their friends, or at home with their family. The boss assumes that everything is fine, then cheerfully continues to delegate and give the employees more challenges to deal with. Yet they are not in a position to meet these challenges. The consequence? A deterioration in motivation and performance.

How can you encourage your employees to speak?

A manager asked me a couple of days ago how she could ensure that even the quiet ones on the team gave her feedback. This is certainly not easy. Also, no employee – even the direct and forthright ones – will ever tell their boss everything what they think about her or the work itself.

It is, however, entirely possible to coax out a few important points. How does that work? If you only ask for tips or points on leadership improvement – as is commonly given on many discussion notes for annual employee reviews ­– then you might get one or two nuggets of advice from a very few employees.

But this is rarely substantial feedback.

At best it is putting a patch on the underlying issues.

So, be a bit more specific. Ask your employees about various concrete aspects of your daily work – delegation, appreciation, clarity of team goals, team atmosphere, etc. Use a scale of 1 to 10.

In most settings, practically no employee will give their boss a perfect 10.

Now you ask two decisive follow-up questions:

  1. What is already good?
  2. What could be added to make it a 10?

With the first question you collect concrete examples of good leadership behavior, which you can now consciously strengthen.

With the second question you can also extract – even from the quieter employees – what could still be improved in their opinion.

Use this link to the document “Feedback for Leaders”. Please feel free to download it and adapt it to your needs, then look forward to enjoying some well-founded feedback – from all of your employees.

Your feedback culture is like a delicate flower

If you change one or two things based on the feedback received, then over time your employees will give you more feedback and will be more open with you. Step by step, you will get to know what your employees think of you.

An increasing number of companies – and I am happy to say a few of my clients – have made feedback for leaders a requirement. For example, one of my clients conducts an annual moderated team workshop on leadership quality for each individual manager. At the end, leader and team work out an individual implementation plan together.

Other companies have their managers evaluated on a monthly basis via an app. That is also a way to do it, but it only works if each evaluation is followed up with a meeting between managers and workers in order to determine what exactly is good already and what still needs improvement. There is no substitute for personal exchange.

Isn’t this an old hat?

Feedback is not a new concept. However, regular, structured feedback for managers leading to a concrete plan for implementation for both leader and team is as ever an exception.

If you want to master the challenges together with your team, then you should enter into increased dialogue with your employees. Afterwards, you can all go and have lunch together, or go bowling, or enjoy a birthday cake, or in some way show yourself personally from your natural, human side.

You don’t need to be your employees’ best friend, but a good relationship with them leads to more valuable feedback. In that way you can together with the team find the best way to meet and master challenging goals and the demands made by fast-paced change of digitization.

I wish you the best of success!

Your Markus Jotzo

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