Are you finding that it's almost impossible to hire top talent these days? And once you do, that it's almost as tough to keep employees from moving on? If so, you should consider an unpleasant possibility: Your management style may be part of the problem.
If it is, you probably don't know it, according to Laura Crawshaw, PhD, researcher, coach, and author of Taming the Abrasive Manager. "One of the characteristic aspects of abrasive leaders is they do not perceive themselves to be abrasive," she explains. "They tend to be blind to their own behavior, or think that it is necessary, that the only way to deal with employees is to be aggressive with them."
That's a fallacy, she says. It's completely appropriate to tell employees when their performance is lacking, and what they must do to improve. But this should take place in private, in a calm, cut-and-dried conversation, with a clear statement of what the consequences will be if they don't fulfill your requirements. Abrasive bosses often find it hard to have these straightforward conversations, though. They're more likely to get emotional and less likely to get specific.
Unfortunately, Crawshaw says, if you're an abrasive boss, it's almost impossible for you to change by yourself. She recommends hiring a coach, taking a management class at your local community college, or getting a mentor you respect to help you improve your communication style--and thus your employee retention. How can you know if you need that kind of help? Begin by asking yourself the following questions, or check out her book for more details:
1. How long do you employees stay with you?
Compare your retention rate with others in your industry or town. If yours is shorter, you may have a problem.
2. What's you're relationship afterward?
Employees and bosses who've had a good working relationship often stay in touch, at least slightly, even after they've stopped working together. If you never hear from any of your former employees, that's a bad sign.
3. Do you help employees develop?
The best bosses are invested in their employees being successful, and look for opportunities to help them grow through additional training and new opportunities.
4. Do you feel like you're the smartest person in the office and no one else has any idea how to do their job?
There's a good chance your management style is to blame. Not that employees don't do stupid stuff--they do--but if you've got them at all intimidated or scared, you're helping to reduce their IQ. There's ample evidence that stressors, such as having a boss chew you out, can lessen cognitive function for hours at a time.
5. Do you frequently get into intense confrontations with employees or others at the office?
That should never happen, or very rarely. If it does, that's a good clue something's wrong with your approach.
6. Do you spend most of your time feeling frustrated with your employees or co-workers?
If you didn't get frustrated sometimes, you wouldn't be human. But if you spend more time feeling frustrated than anything else, chances are you're the biggest part of the problem.
7. Do you have a scary nickname in your workplace?
If people call you things like "The Axe Man" or "The Dragon Lady," chances are you have a problem. On the other hand, if you have a nickname like that, you might not know about it....
8. Do people phrase things carefully around you?
If you get the feeling people are walking on eggshells, especially when they give you bad news, chances are you're an abrasive boss.
9. How did people communicate in your family when you were growing up?
This is sometimes the source of the trouble, Crawshaw says. If you were raised in an environment where people spoke to each other aggressively, it may feel like the norm to you. But with self-awareness, and some coaching or training, you can overcome that norm, she says.
"Families are the original organization we experience," she says. In some, there's a lot of shouting and aggression. In others, "When the parents speak, the children take it very seriously because they know there will be consequences if they don't listen. There's no barking or biting."
Even if you were raised in a more aggressive family, you can break the cycle as a manager yourself, as well as a parent. "There's no guarantee that the behavior at home has to carry over into the workplace," Crawshaw says.