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How Poor Leaders Are Killing Us

Alexandria Joy - Friday, November 28, 2014
"Our jobs are killing us and the people who are responsible are our leaders."

I recently heard Simon Sinek say this in a YouTube video and it really struck a chord. How did you feel when you read that? Harsh reality? Don't believe me? Or perhaps you have had an experience yourself or heard someone say "my boss is busting my balls" or "my manager is killing me!"

These might be throw away comments around the water cooler but sadly they are a reflection of reality. 
In my view and experience leadership is not a rank or position – it is a choice. It is a choice to be of service and support others. Since first reading Robert Greenleaf's powerful book The Servant Leader when writing my thesis paper for my master's degree in my late 20's, to working for the General Manager of a large teaching hospital with 3,000 staff who clearly cared about his staff and how they cared for their patients, I began the journey of studying servant leaders.

Some of the most powerful lessons I learnt came from working in toxic environments where there was a clear container manager culture of restrictive, measured and fear based decisions that created a dog eat dog, dobber mentality amongst staff. Here I saw how even one container manager at the top could have a negative impact on people's self-esteem, health, wellbeing and relationships both at work and at home.

Almost as bad as the container manager was the disinterested manager where I witnessed people shrivel and lose their spark as they became undervalued and invisible.

And the research proves working for these poor leaders is a problem for individual employees as well as for the organisation. Studies from Europe and the US are showing that when people say “my boss is killing me”, quite literally this could be the case - around 25% of people who have worked for a poor manager for a short period of time and 38% of the people who have worked for a poor manager for a longer period of time are more likely to have a stroke or heart disease later in life as a product of working with them.

Biologically working with a manager who makes us feel paranoid and anxious and unsafe creates too much cortisol in our body which compromises our immune system, will make us self-interested and stressed, and makes us less empathic and considerate of others.

In addition, being ignored by a manager results in a 4 in 10 chance you’ll be actively disengaged in your job on a daily basis. If your manager tells you what you’re doing wrong – there’s a 2 in 10 chance you’ll be actively disengaged at work.

On the other hand if you are fortunate to work for an expander leader who focuses primarily on your strengths – there’s only a slim 1 in 10 chance that you’ll be disengaged at work.

So what is it that expander leaders do differently to poor leaders or container manager? Expander or servant leaders:
  • create more leaders – they are of service
  • see possibility in every individual employee and seek to find the Uniqueness (I call it the UQ) in every single person
  • are more likely to sacrifice self for the good of the many and the organisation
  • take care to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.
  • focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.
  • give control, not take control.
Of the company's I've studied over the past two decades, those with an expander leader driven culture experience:
  • less staff turnover
  • less OHS issues, disputes and claims
  • increased productivity
  • increased profit
  • increased stakeholder and employee engagement.
Creating a positive, productive and mentally healthy workplace culture is one of the important issues businesses face today. A recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report identified that ignoring it costs Australian businesses around $10.9 billion a year in lost productivity. And with stress, anxiety and poor mental health likely to affect one in five employees, by taking action the benefits can be profound.

The benefits are clear. Business leaders need to make a long-term commitment to a creating positive, mentally healthy workplace, not killing their people. By taking the initiative, you'll not only make your company a better place to work where people feel respected as unique individuals, you can help make it more productive and profitable. And that's just good business.

Want to change the world? Become an Expander Leader and #StartwithU
If you're sick and tired of working for a container manager and are at your wit's end you might like to watch my video "How to tell your boss they suck".

Post a Comment

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Sue Painter commented on 04-Dec-2014 12:03 AM
This is a super-great article, and I shared it on my FB page. For years I watched my co-workers in the corporate world "sick out" as the only honorable way out of a horrible situation at work. When I started doing the same thing I knew it was time to go.
Tiffany deSilva commented on 04-Dec-2014 05:00 AM
Glad to see you highlight how important good leadership is. Working in a job that is "killing you" is actually truly bad for your health and bad for business.
Mary Ellen Miller commented on 04-Dec-2014 12:52 PM
Like you I have worked for both types of leaders. It is so refreshing to have a wonderful boss with the qualities in the diagram above.
Trudy Scott commented on 05-Dec-2014 02:15 PM
Great blog which brings back memories of horrible bosses in the corporate world. In one project we did actually have 2 people die of heart attacks in a 6 month period. I was under SO much stress in that position and that was was when I said enough!

That situation has made me more aware of being a good boss as I now run my own business. And this blog post serves as a great reminder for me so thanks!

I find all the stats and studies enlightening too!
Heidi commented on 05-Dec-2014 08:13 PM
Wow Trudy - how horrible to hear of the fatal impact that stress in a corporate roll contributed to for your colleagues as well as your own health.
No wonder you headed down the amazing wellbeing path you are on now. It is easy to lose sight of what's important when driven by profits - all we need is to be reminded that the people we are working with are human flesh and blood and it comes back to what's important
Mitch Tublin commented on 08-Dec-2014 02:34 PM
I am often shocked by the person who is in the leadership role who does not recognize the people closely following behind to the point where when this positional leader stops a dozen noses go straight up their....you know where the sun doesn't shine. Enjoyed your article!
Mira commented on 11-Dec-2014 03:11 PM
Great article. I think just about everyone has had at least one job where the environment was toxic and harmful. It's sad how much this can interrupt productivity and impact the health of employees. Thanks for sharing this.

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