When the ‘heads’ become headaches

Leadership is quintessential to success, but leadership guided by ego not so.

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Leadership is about mobilising people to extract the best out of them emotionally and intellectually. However, companies often face situations where the function heads may act otherwise rendering their people hostile and unproductive.

Leadership is quintessential to success, but leadership guided by ego is not. Employees suffer due to the ambitions and high expectations of senior leaders. Lack of interpersonal and problem-solving skills in the leaders creates an environment which is hostile, individualistic and short-sighted. In such an environment employees not only feel conflicted and burdened but also fail to find the inner strength to bounce back.

HR plays a strategic role in keeping an eye on the functional heads. In an attempt to establish the behavioural qualities of menacing bosses and their role in workplaces of today, we spoke to various leaders.

“HR plays an instrumental role in monitoring inter-relationships at work. They are responsible for the upkeep of all employees in the company, irrespective of their position. They read between the lines and search for clues among silent faces, as many times people are not comfortable speaking against their leaders,” says Ravi Mishra, HR head, South Asia and Middle East, Birla Carbon.

Ravi Mishra

“Companies need to change their cultural mindset at the top to recognise and give a voice to baseline employees so that they can speak against their leaders.”

“We use a multi-rater, 360-degree assessment to obtain comprehensive and varied information about an employee from multiple sources. This is done annually for managerial staff and helps us spot right leadership”, says Rajesh Padmanabhan, group CHRO, Welspun Group.

A senior HR head working in a finance company says, “Poor leadership is very contextual; it is linked to the culture of the organisation. In life, no one achieves 10 on 10, but if a person achieves 3 on 10 then the leader should be more empathetic towards that individual to understand what is going wrong.”

Rajesh Padmanabhan

“We use a multi-rater, 360-degree assessment to obtain comprehensive and varied information about an employee from multiple sources. This is done annually for managerial staff and helps us spot right leadership.”

The discussion led to the establishment of the following characteristics of inconsiderate leaders:

• They do not play the role of facilitators — people who make work easier others.

• Their actions are not aligned with the growth and development of their subordinates.

• They delegate tasks without considering the strengths and weaknesses of their employees.

• Their behaviour is irrational.

• They are not aware of their surroundings.

• They are closed individuals who do not understand other’s point of view.

• They discourage two-way communication.

• They are not transparent and never admit their mistakes.

• They are not supportive towards their team members.

• They are individualistic and play power-centric games.

• They fail to create a proper talent pipeline due to their own insecurities.

Mishra says, “Companies need to change their cultural mindset at the top to recognise and give a voice to baseline employees so that they can speak against their leaders. In the manufacturing sector, mid-level leaders can be bossy. They tend to abuse their power and fail to delegate work effectively. The bigger the company, bigger are the problems related to leadership.”

We asked Suruchi Maitra, CHRO, Lenskart about employees’ reaction to negative leadership. She says, “It is very rare that an employee complains unless the organisation has a very open culture. Some listening forums and surveys can expose such leadership from time to time. HR plays a good role in being conscious keepers of communication and encourage leaders to have a dialogue with their subordinates to resolve issues.”

Suruchi Maitra

“It is very rare that an employee complains unless the organisation has a very open culture. HR should encourage leaders to have a dialogue with their subordinates to resolve issues .” 

“Skip-level meetings are sporadically held where we need specific unfiltered inputs. We pick up sound bites, validate them and look for patterns that give us a true picture of the executives/heads. This leads to right leadership building,” says Padmanabhan. Skip levels are very powerful and keep all organisational levels connected well.

Feedback is one of the greatest tools to combat poor leadership. Senior management holds a dialogue with the function head and discusses his leadership flaws and gives him a chance to improve. Every company has systems in place to deal with such leaders and take appropriate action.

Leaders are born with certain attributes that make them visionaries capable of uniting people under a mission. In the 21st century, leaders have shown grit, vision and intellect that have changed the world. While we acknowledge the leaders behind inventions, their teams remain incognito.

Leaders should allow their subordinates to fail and give them a chance to bounce back. This is a leadership behaviour that creates resilience in subordinates. There are numerous leadership theories but the most important quality that sums up effective leadership is compassion. A leader acting with compassion will always make better decisions.

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