Developing employee potential

Respected and empowered employees stay committed to the business mission

You spent a lot of time hiring the best candidate for an open position and, once he or she was hired, explained your expectations for job performance. Next, you breathe a sigh of relief and get back to your own work. Of course, that is appropriate to a certain extent, but effective supervisors know they need to continuously devote significant time to those they supervise — that this as an ongoing responsibility that can never be taken lightly.

Positive interactions between managers and line staff are critical to business success. Yet, according to a study by Oracle and the research firm Future Workplace, as many as 64% of workers say they would trust a robot over their manager. Ouch!

In her book, “Take the Lead,” Betsy Myers wrote, “Successful leaders are those who are conscious about their behavior and the impact it has on the people around them.”

Aboubacar “Tondi” Mahaman, one of my colleagues when I worked in Africa, observed: “People in power need to be aware of how little positive feedback it takes to create a safe and enabling working environment where staff are motivated and committed.” This requires constant self-reflection and attention to observe and understand what is going on in your team.

I was surprised to read a recent business column in the New Hampshire Union Leader in which the author observed, “Any time you are dealing with people, you also have to deal with their individual problems. And that’s the part of managing that drives a lot of people crazy. I don’t mind having to deal with an occasional issue that involves conflicts in the office. But I do get pretty frustrated when there are personality clashes where people can’t get along, and I end up wasting time dealing with it.”

People problems and work conflicts are, for sure, among the most challenging aspects of being a supervisor, but successfully managing these situations is an important aspect of leadership effectiveness. The power and beauty of the leadership role is turning these kinds of challenges into positive opportunities that develop human potential and increase business success.

The right combination of feedback and encouragement can make a big difference in both the lives of those you work with and the bottom line. Sadly, many people are promoted into leadership roles without the training or support needed to navigate these workplace challenges. The result, too often, are suboptimal workplaces with unhappy employees, high turnover and low productivity.

Of course, it is best when people sort out problems on their own, but unresolved conflicts can be destructive, and the right kind of intervention by a skilled leader can make a real difference.

Helping staff develop new skills and understand how their behavior impacts others is challenging work, but it can also be immensely satisfying. Employees will be more productive, and leaders who embrace this approach will be the most successful. Of course, you can’t solve every personnel problem, and sometimes staff need to be let go — but only as a last resort.

Balance between people and work tasks is key. In the early 1960s, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton developed a managerial grid for thinking about a leader’s “task versus person” orientation. Their model is based on two behavioral dimensions when deciding how best to accomplish a task: Concern for People (staff needs, interests and areas for personal development) and Concern for Results (work objectives, efficiency and productivity).

Blake and Moulton describe “country club leaders” as those who focus exclusively on people and lose sight of business needs. Alternatively, those who focus only on results foster a “produce or perish” environment that is punitive and counterproductive. The best model, they argue, is the “team leader” who successfully integrates both dimensions.

Team leaders are passionate about work, while also doing their best for the staff, inspiring people to stretch themselves to deliver great results. As a result, employees feel respected, empowered and committed to the business mission.

What steps could you take to fully embrace the needs of your people while also adhering to the business mission? What kind of leader do you inspire to be?

We each have an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives (including our own). Don’t underestimate your impact!

Douglass P. Teschner, founder of Growing Leadership LLC, can be reached at

Categories: Business Advice