What is the scope of the “wake” that you create as a leader?

As a leader of people, it is important from time to time to hear from others about the impact you have on them. This is why Leadership 360 Assessments are useful. The report you receive can tell you where you are on the right track and where you are doing well as a leader and where you need to tighten up and develop more skills. Understanding the perceptions of others and your impact on them is very important in your own development, both as a leader and as a human being. Your 360 may reveal that you have unhappy people working for you. This is what we call your leadership “awakening”.

One element of the wake you create that you may not have thought about is the impact happiness or unhappiness at work can have on employees’ families.

A recent HBR article exploring the impact of parents’ work experiences on their children concluded that… “Parents who enjoyed greater autonomy at work and had more supportive supervisors and co-workers were at their warmer and more engaged when interacting with their babies. The researchers followed the families for a few years and found that the children of happy workers did better in school and had fewer behavioral problems. In fact, the study showed that parents’ experiences of happiness or unhappiness at work had a measurable impact on their children’s development.

The cost of unhappiness at work

If a product defect affected your profitability and stock price, you wouldn’t just sit back and bear those costs; you would do something about it. Well, unhappy people at work are costing you real money.

The American Psychological Association estimates that over $500 billion is lost due to work stress. We also know that 550 million working days are lost each year due to stress at work and that 60% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress.

Consider recent data on employee disengagement. Gallup studies found that disengaged workers had 37% more absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. Organizations with low employee engagement scores experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and lower share price 65% over time.

Happiness researcher Annie McKee notes that the costs of stress and unhappiness go far beyond financial aspects. “What we know now is that stress kills health, well-being and happiness at work,” she explains. “And when we’re unhappy at work, we often become disengaged, cynical, and toxic to others.”

It’s time to act.

Where to start

If you’re not sure where to start, consider hitting the reset button and looking at how you can stress your team. Resetting means interrupting some of the unproductive ways you interact with the people who look to you to lead. Resetting can mean paying attention to the impact you have on your team members.

Recently, I had a coaching conversation with a team leader who was frustrated and impatient with her team. She told me she had tasked them with solving a particular problem four months earlier. But when she attended a meeting last week, it looked like they hadn’t made much progress. Fed up, she got up and left. Daniel Goleman calls it weak emotional self-regulation, but that’s a bit technical. Simply put, she lost her temper. And she left a lot of malcontents in her wake.

She’s probably not too connected to the wave of fear that started from that outburst. But the trust and security that has been damaged could take months and years to rebuild. Productivity will plummet as people talk and talk about what happened, trying to process it all. Obviously, there are better ways she could have handled the situation.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be frustrated or angry. You are human – it happens. But what you do with that anger is what matters most. Can you calm down and think of several ways to say what you need to say without criticizing people and what they have created?

Here are three things you can do right away:

  1. If you find yourself engaging with your team unproductively, stop and reset as soon as possible. Ask yourself what you could say or do that is more respectful.
  2. Focus on improving team relationships. This may involve taking steps to build trust and respect, or clearing up confusion about roles and responsibilities so that each member of your team knows what they are expected to do and by when. This will force you to have difficult conversations without creating collateral damage. You will also need to be open to feedback and act on what you hear.
  3. Stop thinking your perspective is the only good one. All perspectives and points of view are valid. Cultivate a culture of curiosity and appreciation of differences.

Start with the only thing you can control: your own behavior. And keep in mind that small changes can have the biggest impact – for generations.

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