Leave it to a comedian to invert perceptions of the leader-follower dynamic.
In 2009 Jon Stewart asked chief White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee “Is [the President] going to impeach us?” After all, Stewart mused, might the unpopularity of the President’s health care reform be due to people’s failure to follow rather than the President’s ability to lead? While Stewart, as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, was being funny, there is truth in his comments about the leader-follower relationship; both sides have roles to play.
Leaders must work hard to explain their initiatives and create conditions for people to succeed when they implement them. But equally so, followers need to work to fulfill their responsibilities to the organization that pays them. While the majority of employees do pull their weight, we all have seen examples of employees simply clocking time.
While such behavior is never acceptable, it is even less acceptable when times are trying, as they are now. So leaders need to exert their management skills to engage employees and set clear expectations. Here are three questions managers can ask to ensure that employees follow through on their responsibilities.
1. Do people know what is expected of them? Too often we assume people know their jobs. People may know the specifics, but often lack knowledge about how what they do helps the entire organization. For example, if an employee works in accounting, she needs to know how vital her job is to the efficacy of the company. Her attentiveness, as well as that of her colleagues, is essential to the company’s ability to profit. People need to be told, and reminded, of the importance of their work.
2. Do employees know what they can expect from you? It is important to let employees know that you as their manager are available to them. How you define “available” may vary from employee to employee. For new hires, you might be more teacher than boss. For veterans, you will play the coaching role. For the team, you will be the supplier of resources as well as their champion.
3. Do employees know what is expected of each other? While managers need to make certain employees are doing what is asked of them, employees must also do their part to coordinate with each other. Whether a self-managed team makes its own assignments or a manager makes the assignments, what matters most is that employees know who does what so work can be completed in a timely and responsible fashion.
Pushing for employee responsibility is not an excuse for roughshod management. If managers expect their employees to be accountable, then they must set the right example. These leaders need to handle tough issues, volunteer for tough assignments, and go the extra mile to help the organization succeed.