If you don’t know how to manage yourself, you shouldn’t be managing others

Business people talking in meeting

Think you’re an effective leader?

Based on various studies, there’s an even chance you aren’t. In our latest norms, we found that close to 40% of employees don’t trust their senior leaders, and 30% don’t think they’re receiving the coaching they need from their boss. The Engagement Institute found that only half of HR professionals think their leaders know how to engage their employees. 

And Bob Hogan and colleagues found that anywhere from 33% to 67% of leaders and managers derail over the course of their career, leading them to estimate that the “base rate for managerial incompetence is about 50%” (Hogan, Hogan, & Keiser, 2010).

If you are an ineffective manager, you run the risk of derailing more than just strategic initiatives. A growing body of research indicates that bad leaders have a profound effect on their followers. For example, Anna Nyberg and colleagues found that when male employees felt they were working for an inconsiderate or unsupportive boss, they had a 20% higher chance of developing heart disease over a ten year period. Dawn Carlson and colleagues found that when employees were working for an abusive boss, they were more likely to experience relationship problems at home. And Kevin Kelloway and Julian Barling cite various studies showing that abusive leader behavior undermines employee health, well-being, and safety.

Based on our experience, most bad bosses are not bad people. They’re just confused. Some are operating with faulty assumptions about how to motivate their employees. Others overestimate their own effectiveness. For example, we recently found that overconfident leaders—those who consistently overrated their capabilities on their 360 assessment — had team turnover rates that were twice as high as their self-aware peers. Many are overwhelmed. We’ve found that when leaders and managers have not developed an effective coping strategy for managing work pressure, anxiety, and demands, they respond to stress in dysfunctional ways.

Effective leadership requires a strong psychological foundation. Self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-management are critical. If you don’t know who you are, how your behavior affects others, and the impact you have on your team, you’re missing the self-knowledge you need to be an engaging leader.

If you are a leader or a manager who cares about your employees and their performance, here are some questions to consider:

  1. What are your dominant personality traits? How do these traits impact the way you work with others?
  2. What is the dark side of your personality? What aspects of your personality have caused you to behave in dysfunctional or destructive ways in the past, particularly when you were anxious or overwhelmed?
  3. What are your core values? How do they impact your expectations about work? How do they impact the way you lead and manage others?
  4. How do you manage stress at work? What techniques or strategies do you use to cope with the pressures of your job?

At the end of the day, leadership is a social influence process. The better you understand yourself—both the environment you create and the shadow you cast—the more effective you will be at influencing others.

Patrick Hyland, PhD
by Patrick Hyland, PhD

Research and Development, Mercer Employee Research

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