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Sunday, 18 December 2016

It’s Lonely At The Top (But The View Is Great!)

At one stage in my life I lectured on a part time basis mostly to leaders running SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) at Manchester Business School on one of my favourite subjects, Management Style.

One of the points that I made was that the higher you progress up an organisation the fewer people there are to tell you how wonderful you are, and that demands a measure of emotional stamina.  If they do tell you, by the way, it can be construed as creeping.

We all need reassurance that the job we are doing is being done well and we really cannot expect that reassurance from subordinates or even from a peer group in the business.

American psychologist Frederick I Herzberg (1923-2000) propounded a very interesting theory of motivation and particularly what it is that really motivates us.  He derived what he called hygiene factors, that is, criteria which we often imagine are motivators but which actually operate independently.   Typically they consist of things like pay and benefits, company policy and administration, relationships with co-workers and supervision among others.  

On the other hand the really positive motivational factors are achievement, recognition and reward, the work itself, responsibility, promotion and growth.  

Not all of these motivate everyone and remember we don’t and indeed can’t motivate anyone.  It is arrogant to suggest that we can.  All we can do is to provide an environment in which people can and will motivate themselves if they so desire.

The question is, when you are at the top of the tree, who is going to provide you with all those great motivational aspects, especially recognition?  It is interesting by the way to note that pay and benefits are not motivational factors, per se, and as hygiene factors they have a short-term effect, if any.

If pay is within market levels or better slightly above then in general there is a neutral effect.  If however pay levels are perceived (and that is the important word) to be lagging the market levels then pay can become a de-motivator.  Just take a look at the plethora of strikes right now because of that factor.

If we think that doling out higher pay or adding discretionary bonuses will motivate people think again.  The effect is very short term if at all and for a couple of months at the very most.  After that the pay becomes the norm.

It is far better to emphasise the personal attributes that will help people to motivate themselves.  Above all recognition and subsequent non-financial reward are very powerful.

It demands great communication allied with honest, transparency and more than anything else, visible reaction and positive action to prove what has been said has been noticed.

We all need someone to talk to and I have found that there are two excellent outlets for the lonely; a confidential external peer group like Vistage and an equally confidential one-to-one with a trusted advisor either internal or external.  It is precisely for that reason that I have been with Vistage now for twenty-four years and have seen how many stressed business leaders have been able to download and discuss their issues and opportunities in a safe and supportive environment.

And the moral is?   Don’t hold it all in the hope that it will come good in the end.  That is a recipe for unhealthy stress.  Far better to admit that others can help just as we can help others.   As my old Managing Director, Ken Saltrese, used to say:

      “No-one is as smart as all of us!”

 I send you all my sincere good wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and healthy 2017.  See you again in January.


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