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Strong leadership does not assume their people are happy

November 25, 2015

Do you know your people? Are they happy? How do you know? Could you say with 100% certainty that they’re not only engaged in their work, but they’re also satisfied? Remember what mom said about assuming…[hint: it’s not good]. There are two different standards in play, and if you are at all hesitating in your response, you may be more vulnerable than you think. 

I’m not talking about glowing results from last year’s surveys or fleeting, holiday-induced glee. I’m talking about the “I don’t need to unionize because leadership listens” happiness. Just because a manager knows their team’s performance numbers does not mean they can diagnose (or even detect) underlying employee relations problems.

Do all of your people feel comfortable approaching leadership? You might think “well, the employee on the shipping dock cannot simply request an audience with the CEO…that would be absurd.” Sure the CEO is busy, and there may be a lot of reasons why that could not happen, but the scenario should prompt some introspection. Employee relations has become a minefield. Managers worry about getting out alive; leaders diffuse potential explosions and get to the bottom of issues before they begin.

Do this:

  1. Remove all reasons that might compel your employees to turn to a third party (e.g., a union) to solve problems.
  2. Begin the difficult conversations and bring in a facilitator to keep discussions on track. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can be impartial because you can’t. Difficult conversations are difficult for a reason and if people could solve them on their own they would have already done so.
  3. Ditch the illusion that your organization is immune to outsiders’ influence or internal discontent.
  4. Got a problem manager or supervisor? Coach and train them now! Don’t wait for full-blown problems because it will be too late. Got a bad hire in a managerial or supervisory role? Fix it. Now.
  5. Do not dismiss complainers or problem children. Listen to them. (See #2). They’re full of good information to fuel ideas for better leadership.

If you tell me you know there are problems and you’ve done everything you can but your “hands are tied,” I’m going to tell you to look for another job because if a union tries to organize, your position is going to be a casualty.

Employees don’t seek to unionize when they have great leadership and great leadership never assumes.


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