How do workers rate their bosses?
Intrigued by these gaps, I commissioned some research to understand more about how employees felt about whether their bosses were inspiring them. The study was conducted by YOUGOV, an internet-based market research firm, for the company I chair, The Good Relations Group, one of the UK’s leading communications agencies. We surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 4,000 workers in Britain and found that only 21 per cent rated their bosses as very good at inspiring them, with just 5 per cent rating their boss as ‘extremely inspiring’.
That’s only one in 20 employees who give their leaders the top score for inspiration. At the other end of the spectrum, 33 per cent rated their bosses uninspiring with a further 12 per cent rating them as ‘extremely uninspiring’.
It was clear that the older you get, the more demanding you are of your leaders. Nearly 40 per cent of people over the age of 55 regarded their bosses as uninspiring, which is a third more than those aged 25 to 34.
Significant variations in inspiration appeared across industries. Employees from the media, marketing, advertising and public relations sector were most likely to rate their bosses as inspiring (31 per cent rating them 8 or higher on the scale) followed by those in the IT industry (28 per cent). Only 20 per cent of employees in government rated their bosses as inspiring. Two-fifths of employees (40 per cent) who worked in travel and transport said their bosses were uninspiring (giving them a rating of between 1 and 4 on a scale of 1 to 10), suggesting this is an industry with the least engaged workers (see Figure 16.1).
This research shows there is a huge inspiration deficit, one that leaders and managers everywhere ignore at their peril. An inspiration deficit leads directly to an engagement deficit (see Figure 16.2 overleaf). And that leads to failure.
On the other hand, as we have already seen, engaged employees drive greater growth and profitability. Employees who are engaged and inspired perform better on almost every conceivable measure:
· Profit: organizations with top-quartile engagement scores have twice the annual net profit of those in the bottom quartile.
· Revenue growth: those with top-quartile engagement scores have 2.5 times the revenue growth of those in the bottom quarter.
· Customer satisfaction: those organizations with top engagement scores enjoyed 12 per cent higher customer advocacy.
· Productivity: top-quartile organizations have 18 per cent higher productivity than those in the lowest quartile.
· Employee turnover: high-performing organizations have 40 per cent lower turnover of staff than those with low engagement scores.
· Health and safety: organizations in the lower quarter have 62 per cent more accidents than those in the top quartile.
What leader in their right mind would set out deliberately to underperform in any of these areas? Engagement may be hard to measure and therefore seen as a soft intangible, but it impacts directly on profitability or service outcomes. It is not an optional extra. Workers are only engaged when they have inspiring bosses.
This was one of the main insights I gained from the many hundreds of hours I spent interviewing leaders, and then examining the transcripts of what they had to say, for The Language of Leaders. It was from their wisdom that I drew the 12 principles, and it is worth repeating some of the things they told me here.
In relation to each of the chapters in this book, these are their views…
Chapter 2: On relationships and trust…
General Lord Dannatt, former Chief of the General staff of the British Army. ‘It comes down to the personality of the leader, and that is all about character and integrity. Success in the enterprise will be defined by the followers, the workers, the foot soldiers, who will look at the leader and decide whether this is the kind of person that they’re attracted to, whether they’re the kind of person that they want to follow. Their understanding of that person’s integrity will actually determine the degree of enthusiasm with which they follow that person. Is that person to be trusted? Is that a person who’s got their best interests at heart or is he or she only interested in short-term success or getting the right figures on the bottom line? So communication and character are both really important.’
Tom Enders, CEO of EADS, a global aerospace and defence business. ‘Leaders must stand up and speak out about things that really matter. This is what will give them credibility. It takes courage. You have to lead from the front. If you really want to motivate people, you have to give them your trust. In a book about the power of trust in organizations, I found a quote that pretty much captures the way I try to operate: “I’d rather trust and be occasionally disappointed, than not trust and be occasionally right.” It doesn’t mean blind trust, obviously, but you have to give trust to unleash the enormous creativity in your company. When you delegate responsibility, when you truly trust people to do a job, they are wonderfully motivated.’
David Morley, Senior Partner at global law firm Allen & Overy. ‘If you are going to get your message across and influence the way people behave, which ultimately is what leadership is all about, then there has to be trust in you as an individual and in what you say. When trust goes, cynicism takes its place and it’s very difficult to influence cynical people, or people who are cynical about you or your motives. Then it doesn’t matter how brilliant a speaker you are – if people don’t trust you, you may as well not be talking.’
Chapter 4: On learning to be yourself better…
Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive of Turning Point, a health and social care organization. ‘The difference between leadership and management is that leadership involves emotional investment in the task whereas management requires intellectual investment. Good leaders understand the importance of this. Sadly a lot of leaders don’t communicate in this way at all, because they are actually terrified. They fear that they will be found out and people will see that they do not have an emotional connection with what they are trying to achieve. They want to avoid exposing themselves. They don’t want to take the risk because all communication involves risk. The fear is that you will be exposed as inauthentic, or worse, that your authentic self will be rejected. I believe that the act of communicating is itself a risk, but the act of being inauthentic is an even greater risk.’
John Hirst, Chief Executive of the Met Office, the UK’s national weather service. ‘If I want to inspire others I have to remember that I can’t do that if I am not inspired myself. If I am not convinced I will not convince others. And if I’m not comfortable in my own skin I won’t be able to win people’s trust.’
Chapter 5: On purpose, vision and values…
Sir Anthony Bamford, Chairman of JCB, the world’s third-largest construction equipment brand. ‘There is a difference between a purpose and a vision. Purpose is what you do all the time. It is why you exist. A vision is about how successful you will be at what you do, and this will be expressed as a five-year business plan. The plan will be translated into annual goals, and even monthly and weekly goals. The plan has to work in tandem with your purpose.’
John Connolly, past senior partner and CEO of accountancy firm Deloitte, and Chairman of global security company G4S. ‘You have to talk about what the future looks like, how you are going to achieve it, and you have to explain the case for change. You have to talk with people about their role in achieving the vision, and make sure they see how they fit in. You have to make sure they understand what you stand for, why what you are doing is important, and how everyone will benefit from success. Human beings work best when they believe in who they are, what they are doing and in the way in which they are doing it together.’
Chapter 6: On bringing the outside in…
Sir Stuart Rose, Chairman of online grocer Ocado and former Chairman of Marks & Spencer’s. ‘We live in a world which is so fast moving you have to have your antennae permanently switched on 24 hours a day and they have got to be literally quivering. You have to bring that into the company.’
Paul Polman, global CEO of Unilever, an international consumer goods company. ‘Bringing customers in helps everyone understand the purpose of the company. All you have to do then is ignite the flame that links the passions of your people to a great sense of purpose, you are up and running. That’s what makes a high-performance organization.’
Chapter 7: On engaging through conversation…
Sir Christopher Gent, Chairman of global pharmaceutical company GSK. ‘To get people engaged and fully supportive of decisions, you have to go through a process of vigorous debate. This conversation may take longer than you would like, but in the end you will implement faster and more successfully if you do take the time.’
Peter Cheese, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. ‘Empowerment is about giving others the space to succeed, trusting them to perform within the boundaries that you have set, and aligning them on broader objectives and goals. Empowerment therefore requires trusting delegation and a huge amount of conversation to enable success.’
Colin Matthews, Chief Executive of BAA. ‘The communication between employees and their direct managers is critical. If you think of communication as a cake, then corporate communications from the top is the icing, and the real substance is in the discussion between front-line supervisors and employees. Too much icing, without the cake, can make you ill. Leaders should ensure that those front-line managers have the tools and skills to have quality conversations with their staff. Leadership isn’t something you do by yourself at the top; you have to have leaders everywhere in the organization.’
Sir Nicholas Young, Chief Executive of the International Red Cross. ‘It is really important to get our volunteers and staff along with changes, so we take the time to go out and ask them, and discuss ideas with them. It really makes it much easier to inspire people if you know where they are coming from, if you know and understand what their issues are. It is only through these conversations that you can encourage and support and inspire others to achieve.’
Chapter 8: On connecting with your audience…
Lord Colin Sharman, former Chairman of global insurance company Aviva. ‘If you really want to communicate, and make a connection with your audience, you have to understand what it is that they need to hear, where they’re coming from, and you’ll need to address those issues upfront. You will also have to talk with them with the right tone. Unless you do both of those things, they are unlikely to hear anything you have to say. You might give a brilliant speech, but you won’t have communicated.’
Judith Hackitt, Chair of the British Health and Safety Executive. ‘Preparing for the communications session means trying to understand where people in your audience are coming from. Will they be feeling antagonistic? Are they in a state of fear or uncertainty? Unless you acknowledge that early on then there will always be difficulty in connecting. Rather than battling my way against negative feeling in a room I always try to acknowledge it. That can be really powerful because it shows people that you clearly understand where they are coming from.’
Jane Furniss, Chief Executive of the United Kingdom Independent Police Complaints Commission. ‘You have to be really clear about who is in the audience, what you’d like them to do or think as a result of what you say, and what benefits they’ll derive if they do.’
Chapter 9: On being a better listener…
Dame Amelia Fawcett, Chair of the Guardian Media Group. ‘The ability to listen well is probably one of the most powerful tools of communication that a leader can possess. Those that listen well listen with real intent. They are hearing not only the words, but also the meaning beneath what people are saying.’
Sir Maurice Flanagan, Executive Vice-chairman of the Emirates Airline and Group. ‘Leaders gain respect by showing respect. One way you show respect is to really listen. You get respect when people feel that you are taking their views into account. Good listening is not just about understanding what people want to tell you, it is also about the expression on your face when you are listening. People must feel you care about what they have to say.’
Ayman Asfari, Group Chief Executive of Petrofac, a global oil industry facilities business. ‘It is crucial to encourage people to bring you bad news. You must never stop the flow of bad news, because if you do that, it will be the beginning of the end. You have to create an environment where people can challenge you and you must be prepared to listen to those challenges. I know from long experience that when people have had a chance to be heard, they might then rally behind a decision even if it is not what they initially voted for.’
Chapter 10: On sending signals…
Richard Gnodde, Chief Executive of Goldman Sachs International. ‘Leadership communication can be defined very broadly as everything we say, everything we do, how we conduct ourselves, and what body language we display. Good leaders instinctively know when to talk, when to shut up, how to hold themselves and how to behave. People have always looked to the top for signals and leaders have always been in a fishbowl. The bowl is more transparent than ever today with the internet and 24/7 scrutiny.’
Antony Jenkins, CEO of Barclays Bank. ‘If I walk the floors in Barclays and I’m frowning the whole time, hunched over with my hands in my pockets, concern will pass through the building like wildfire. But you have to be very sensitive to how you present at all times. Managing your emotions and channelling them in the right way, as opposed to just letting them run wild, [is] really important.’
Judith Hackitt says that being visible can sometimes send very specific signals. ‘When you talk to most senior managers, they will tell you that health and safety is very important to them, but you can pick up signals that clearly show this is not the case. If you ask how long it has been since they last went out into the plant and the answer is “um… um…” then everything starts to unravel. The words and the actions don’t match. So leaders must take time to visibly send the signals that they want people to receive.’
Chapter 11: On telling stories…
Sir Nicholas Young of the Red Cross. ‘A storytelling organization is a healthy organization. I just love stories. They are incredibly powerful and potent ways of getting messages across, far more powerful than statistics or analysis, the death-by-PowerPoint approach. Stories move me and they move people in the organization.’
Sir Maurice Flanagan of Emirates Airline Group. ‘A good story combined with strong logic and supporting statistics can go a very long way. Logic gets to the brain and stories get to the heart.’
David Morley of Allen & Overy. ‘Messages sink in better when people work things out for themselves. There’s something about the discovery process which helps people to remember better. When they conclude things from your story, it is so much more powerful than if you try to tell them in a series of dry points.’
Chapter 12: On articulating a powerful point of view…
Michael Eisner, former Chief Executive of the Walt Disney Company, after which he founded the Tomante Company, an enterprise that invests in media and entertainment businesses. ‘The best leaders always have a potent point of view. What amazes me is that it’s always the person with the strong point of view who influences the group, who wins the day.’
Natalie Ceeney, CEO of the Financial Ombudsman Service. ‘People don’t respect leaders who don’t have a point of view.’
Moya Greene, CEO of the Royal Mail, the national postal service of the United Kingdom. ‘Leaders need to have views on issues long before being called on to give them. Being a leader in a transparent world can be very difficult. The media can be quite cruel and can be pretty indifferent to the truth at times. Whether you are talking to the media or talking on some public platform, you have to have thought through your position on issues before you get called on. These days, you simply don’t have time to think about formulating your point of view in the heat of a discussion. You must have done it beforehand.’
Chapter 13: On preparing for public platforms…
Sir Stuart Rose. ‘Leaders have to become competent in all forms of media. You have to be able to do radio, you have got to be able to do TV, you’ve got to be able to do a pre-record, or handle being on a location, or on a studio set – they are all quite different approaches and senior people must know how to handle all of them. And it can’t just be the CEO; the top team needs to be trained.’
Sir Clive Woodward, former English rugby union player and Head Coach of the 2003 Rugby World Cup winning side, then Director of Sport for the British Olympic Association. ‘Preparing properly is the key to getting your message across. My whole experience tells me that the more thought I have given to my message, the better I will communicate it. It is like any aspect of sport: if you prepare well you will communicate well. And, always think about what questions you might get, and prepare for those as well.’
Chapter 14: On the power of words…
John Stevens, Baron Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, was Commissioner for the London Metropolitan Police from 2000 until 2005. He is now Executive Chairman of Monitor Quest Ltd, a strategic intelligence and risk-mitigation company. ‘Leaders in high-profile positions need to assess every word they utter. When I was leading the Northern Ireland collusion enquiry, which lasted two decades and led to the conviction of 90 people, it was the highest-profile criminal enquiry of its time. I soon came to realize that every word mattered and echoed throughout Northern Ireland.’
Philip Green, formerly CEO of water company United Utilities. ‘Whether you like it or not people hang on your every word and the words have more impact than you realize, arguably more impact than they should have, but it takes great skill to talk with passion and still be on message and careful. Not only great skill but a great deal of rehearsal and practice.’
Chapter 15: On social media…
Dame Amelia Fawcett, Chair of the Guardian Media Group. ‘Most communications are just not fit for purpose in the Facebook, Twitter, blog and 24/7 news world. One correspondent on the The Guardian has a following on her blog of 750,000 people. The Guardian has a circulation of 365,000. If you know how to engage with that sort of network it can be very powerful.’
Kevin Beeston, chairman of Taylor Wimpey, one of the largest British housebuilding companies. ‘These days, everybody’s got a camera with them. Everybody’s got a mobile phone with a voice-recording system or a video camera, so you cannot drop your guard. Make one mistake and you will not get away with it. But, the opposite is also true – if you manage this environment well you have more ways of getting your message over and building your brand. And a strong brand is probably one of the most significant competitive advantages a company can have. So if you manage it effectively, it could be a big driver of shareholder value.’
Chapter 16: On striving to get better…
Sir Christopher Gent believes there is far too little emphasis placed on communications training in business. ‘Not only does a leader have to make sure that they personally are capable when it comes to all forms of communication, but they should also make sure that senior people around them are also getting the right professional assistance. They should also be ensuring that they are making their whole organization a better-communicating organization. Good communication is crucial to success.’
Sir Clive Woodward has a saying he calls ‘T-CUP’ – thinking correctly under pressure. ‘It applies to sport or business, to communication, to everything you do. It is the best definition of a champion – someone who thinks correctly when pressure is at its greatest. That takes practice.’