Poor leadership – the unspoken truth of workplaces?

Occupational Psychologist Sannamari Ahola from Mehiläinen witnesses various types of leadership in her work. Ahola wonders why businesses do not take sufficient action against poor managerial work.
Although each individual’s experience of different types of supervisors is subjective, it is clear that, at times, some supervisors do objectively more harm than good. Nevertheless, such supervisors get to carry on unchallenged.

Inconsistency, dramatics, convincing antics

There may be many reasons why companies fail to take action. The supervisor may be inconsistent and act differently depending on the people around them or the situation they are facing. They may treat their team, their own supervisor and their colleagues completely differently. This makes it difficult to detect misconduct. The supervisor may be a convincing speaker which makes it hard for even external auditors to get to the bottom of the employees’ experiences.

Sometimes, a supervisor may be commonly known to have poor managerial skills, but the team’s results may be so good that the company does not see the need to address the issue. The supervisor may also have special skills or an excellent relationship with a key customer, which is why the company lets them continue their ill-advised actions.
At their worst, poor managerial skills reflect the leadership culture of the entire company where certain habits have long traditions; employees fear or even know that they may get discharged for questioning their supervisors.

The stories about poor managerial work we have heard have some similarities; the lack of objectives, orientation and job description is surprisingly common, especially after changes at the workplace. Employees are also often left alone in situations where the supervisor should make tough decisions and outline policies and focal points. Other common traits in the negative experiences included dramatic behaviour in conflicts as well as contradictory or inconsistent communications.

Poor leadership weakens the team’s results

According to studies, poor leadership weakens the team’s results, whereas good leadership improves occupational wellbeing, motivation and commitment. Leadership skills are particularly tested during changes where the so-called psychological employment agreement is also usually re-evaluated. Poor managerial work can be seen not only in work satisfaction and atmosphere surveys but also in sickness-related absences and the turnover of personnel. These affect the company’s results as well as its reputation.

Boosting values in everyday leadership

The entire leadership culture should stem from the company’s values that should also be visible in everyday managerial work. If occupational wellbeing is mentioned in celebratory speeches, it should also be present in practical everyday activities, which is why the company should take action in leadership-related issues. “Putting up” with unusual behaviour and turning a blind eye disintegrates the morals of the entire company.

It is important to boldly tackle misconduct and speak up; you cannot cover up the problems and expect things to change. With clear feedback and professional support, even an unskilled supervisor can become better. Job descriptions can also be revised; managerial tasks can be transferred to other people, and the person may thrive in tasks that are more in line with their particular skills.
Tackling misconduct starts by speaking up. Speaking up, in turn, is part of managing work ability, and managing work ability is high-quality leadership.

Seek help from experts

Mehiläinen’s experts also support supervisors and work communities in difficult situations. The development of leadership and self-reflection often requires dialogue by means of work counselling or coaching, for example. Our coaching also offers the opportunity to evaluate and develop leadership policies during major changes and in the management of working ability. The ‘Bring it up’ training, in turn, puts theory into practice, discusses policymaking and goes over the company’s tactics for speaking up.

Text written by Mehiläinen’s Occupational Psychologist Sannamari Ahola.

See also Sannamari Ahola’s video “Poor leadership – the unspoken truth of workplaces?”

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