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When All You Have is a Hammer You Want Everything to be a Nail

By May 1, 2017February 14th, 2019Articles, Leadership

When all you have is a HammerRecently I’ve been asking some targeted questions of people when I meet them, particularly if they are employed. Do they like their job? Are they passionate about what they do? On a scale of 1-10 how engaged would they say they are?

The responses are interesting and alarming. Most say they are passionate about what they do, their job is ok and the average engagement rating is only a 5. There are very few (one to be precise) that said they love their job, are passionate and highly engaged.  Most simply show up and will do a ‘good’ job. In other words, will do what they need to do and no more.

In a study of workplaces in more than 140 countries published in Gallup’s The State of the Global Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for Business Leaders Worldwide report found that only 13% of people are engaged in their work. That same study found that of Australian employees:

  • 60% are ‘not engaged’, meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organisational goals or outcomes
  • 16% are ‘actively disengaged’, indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to co-workers.

These are very confronting statistics. In the USA alone, for example, this low engagement rate is said to cost an estimated $370 billion a year.

What has people so unhappy – on a global scale? We could guess, assume or dig down which I have in Busy? but there is an overarching problem that comes back to leadership and how leaders choose to lead which has a direct flow on effect to the culture of an organisation and how people are feeling.

There’s a popular concept known as Maslow’s hammer. Have you heard of it? Back in 1966 Abraham Maslow said “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

If all you have is your ability to think like a leader and your thinking is one dimensional (your hammer) then this could be the reason you’re not getting the results that you want. For example, some leaders are completely number and KPI driven. What the bottom line tells them is the only indication of how a business is performing. They disregard what is really happening in the workplace, how people are feeling, the hours they are putting in and the tone of the culture. This is their hammer. And this hammer will certainly drive people towards disengagement and out of your business.

If all you have in your tool kit is the ability to be a leader, the type of leader you are, then you are looking to simply lead in your way and this isn’t relevant leadership. We have a complex and rich tapestry of people in business now that need to be engaged and valued. One dimensional thinking and leading won’t cut it.

As a 21st century leader what you need is the ability to think like your team, and your clients for that matter as well as a leader. How are they experiencing things? How are they feeling? What are they thinking? How did you think when you were part of a team or in their position? And then you need to adapt and be flexible because there is certainly something that’s not working for leaders globally which is what the engagement scores are telling us. Leaders need to expand their toolkit to engage and be influential.