Leadership Lessons: What are the challenges facing leaders in today’s organizations?
I’ve asked many learners in leadership development workshops, “What are the challenges you face as a leader?” The resulting comments suggest three key categories of challenges: organizational, operational, and people.
Learners often comment on the macro-challenges facing their businesses: an unstable economy, security, growing competition, compliance requirements, and budget pressures. Managers have to do their best within a rapidly changing environment. Thus, coping with ambiguity and managing change are competencies that many organizations seek to develop in their leaders.
One often-cited organizational challenge has to do with “managing upward,” which also implies a "people" challenge. Learners state that reorganization and restructuring create instability in their divisions and departments, leading to changing priorities, new procedures, and staff insecurity. New leadership and new structures mean change. Thus, managers often require new influence and communication skills so they can work more effectively with senior leaders.
Improved interpersonal influence skills can help leaders at all levels feel more confident and demonstrate a bias for action and results when dealing with organizational challenges.
Mid-level leaders report a variety of operational challenges. As they are implementers of organizational strategy, they face tough goals and expect increased productivity from their units. Increasing workloads and higher demands for volume/output make the performance pressures grow. In addition, organizational changes in workflow and technology – often with fewer staff in today’s leaner organizations – make leaders search for new ways to deliver the results. All are concerned with “making the numbers.”
Fortunately, managers can see challenges as opportunities; it is important for them to envision the potential operational improvement that can come from employee participation, involvement, and engagement. In recent sessions on “Empowerment” learners identified some of the key behaviors they can show to create an empowering culture:
• Create a supportive climate
• Clarify goals and expectations
• Show trust in employees
• Share information openly with employees
• Demonstrate strong communication, listening, and feedback skills
Every leader faces “people challenges.” Some leaders report difficulties in morale and employee accountability. Some see problems with recruiting and staffing, while others report challenges of ensuring that employees avoid “problem behaviors:” attendance, timeliness, and disinterest.
At the core of most “people challenges” seems to be a concern about motivation and engagement. Managers at all levels struggle with their perceptions that “employees are not motivated,” “they don’t want to be good teammates,” and “they’re just putting their time in.” Sounds like these managers are facing the “actively disengaged” or “not fully engaged,” a total percentage that has been reported to be between 70-80% of the workforce.
How can leaders address “people challenges” and help employees become more involved and engaged in their work? Learners suggest:
• Let people know what you value; be honest with them
• Build strong personal relationships
• Connect work to the values and priorities that employees hold
• Show employees how their contributions help the organization succeed
• Offer people freedom and choice
• Support learning and growth
• Be clear about expectations and deliverables
• Balance direction with consideration
• Find ways to reward and recognize people for their contributions
As a leader, be aware of the varied challenges you face, change your mindset to see challenges as opportunities, and be proactive in making positive changes for yourself and for your organization.
Emil J. Sadloch (aka Buz), 1971A, is the owner of SADLOCH DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATES (www.sadloch.com), a business that provides leadership development, consulting, and coaching services for clients. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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