A sharp flex in management style can be enough to jolt staff out of a performance plateau and inject some fresh motivation. Used appropriately, this approach may prove more efficient and effective than weeks of coaching and gentle encouragement ever would!
Let me tell you about my recent experience.
Facing into the summer vacation period, resources in our office were stretched and the workload felt like it was multiplying by the day. My desk had more work than I could realistically handle and I too had vacation time booked. With my boss on holidays I engaged in a prioritisation exercise with another manager and agreed what we felt were the highest priority tasks for the business. Upon his return however, it soon became apparent that these decisions did not align with my boss’ expectations. A strategically important project had fallen behind and I was accountable!
Having been diligently committed to this particular client portfolio for more than a year, I took this personally. I could actually feel the motivation gushing out of me. I retreated inward and chose to believe my work and dedication was neither recognised nor valued. My performance became plodding and my attitude was negative.
This is where my manager made a move that in all of the eight years I had worked for him, I had never experienced. Leaving aside his more usual authoritative, democratic and coaching styles; he reached into his arsenal and embodied the coercive. Everything about him changed; his body language, tone and expression. The message I received was sharp and unmistakably clear. Get it done or step aside and I will replace you!
Momentarily stunned by his reaction, I took a sharp intake of breath and came back into focus. Within seconds I had re-evaluated myself and realised he was right. I felt embarrassed as I realised my behaviour was almost petulant and I was better than that. I cared about my work and was heavily invested in this project; its success mattered and motivated me. I left the room and what followed was two weeks of arguably my best work. Working with a clear purpose, my motivation had returned in bucket loads.
The work of Daniel Goleman has informed us well on the benefits and best used scenarios of 6 leadership styles however coercive and pace-making come with a warning that they may negatively impact organisational climate over time.
With the business world ablaze with talk of creating and maintaining high performing teams, managing millennials and motivating the knowledge worker, emphasis has certainly settled on democratic, authoritative and coaching management styles. However, as in my experience, temporary, sharp injections of the more controversial styles can certainly re-energise. Care is needed however and the important things to remember in taking this course of action are:
1. Be authentic; don’t over-stretch and ensure your behaviours and language match your intention. To have effect you must be believable especially if acting outside of your usual modus operandi.
2. Ensure it’s a temporary state, don’t stay in it but reassure your teams that right now you are focused on a very specific short term goal; if they trust you, they will go with you.
3. Know who you are dealing with, connect with the personality and motivations of individuals. Don’t risk forcing an adverse reaction which could hurt the team performance.
4. Don’t carry the baggage; one conversation in this style may be all that is needed for cogs to start turning again; as soon as they do, recognise the work that is being done and build momentum through positive re-enforcement.
5. Ensure that you come back to address root causes, ignoring real grievances long term will hurt performance long-term and damage trust.
Managers, don’t be afraid to flex your style and act temporarily out of character. Your staff may well thank you for it and the business will benefit.