Surveys consistently demonstrate that less than half of Americans are happy at their job, and that the No. 1 reason that employees leave a company is not for lack of money, poor benefits or unhappiness with what they are doing. The No. 1 reason they leave is because of their immediate supervisor.
The term “immediate supervisor” applies to the chain of management all the way up to board level. The sad fact is that most people in a supervisory position, from housekeeping supervisors in a small hotel to CEOs of major companies, are poor leaders, with little understanding of how to motivate and get the best out of the people they are responsible for. Why?
Lack of proper leadership training. Nobody would ever consider putting someone without any mechanical training into a job repairing cars or someone who was a qualified car mechanic into heading the legal case in a capital trial. Yet people are regularly promoted into leadership positions without knowing much about the science and practice of leadership. They may be the best car mechanic or the best lawyer in the world, and although this can be an important part of being successful in a leadership role, it is only a part and does not in any way guarantee success leading a team of car mechanics or a firm of lawyers.
Like most job skills, leadership is something that can be taught. Certainly, a basic aptitude is important. You’re never going to be a successful lawyer if you can’t pass law school. But the right people can be trained to lead at all levels and improve the working atmosphere and financial performance of their companies. So why do so many companies set themselves up for unhappy employees and the consequent expensive staff turnover when they have the ability to do something about it?
Arrogance and ignorance. All too many senior executives seem to believe that by having an MBA and by holding senior positions in companies, they are “natural leaders” when in actual fact, as their subordinates will attest, they couldn’t lead a horse to water. They themselves do not have a comprehensive understanding of what motivates people, so don’t see why those skills need to be developed throughout their organization. This lack of self-awareness inevitably pervades the whole company. By not taking the issue of leadership training seriously, they are condemning their management chain to frustration and their employees to misery.
So should we forgive all those petty tyrants and little Napoleons making life miserable for their subordinates and conclude they are not intrinsically unpleasant but just out of their depth in a position for which they have had no training and perhaps little aptitude? Are they as much victims as victimizers? That this is the fault of more senior management in not giving them the tools to do their job? Only up to a point. They have a duty to their company, to their staff and to themselves to do their job better, and there is no shortage of literature on the subject of leadership. As Field Marshal William Slim — a decorated British military commander and perhaps among the greatest leaders of men — remarked: “There is nobody who cannot vastly improve their powers of leadership by a little thought and practice.”
Julian K. Hutton is president of Merlin Hospitality Management, where he oversees the company’s hotel management and distressed asset management operations, drawing on 20 years experience in the worldwide travel and hospitality industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.