The Cost of Seagull Management

No one influences an employee’s morale and productivity more than his or her supervisor. It’s that simple. Yet, as common as this knowledge may seem, it clearly hasn’t been enough to change the way that managers and organizations treat people.

In a recent survey, 64 percent of managers admit that they need to improve their management skills. When asked where they are supposed to focus, managers overwhelmingly say, “Bringing in the numbers,” and yet managers are most often fired for poor people skills.

Here are some more hard truths we face in the world of work:

  • Approximately 50 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs.
  • More than two-thirds of North Americans are actively considering leaving their current job.
  • Thirty-two percent of employees spend at least twenty hours per month complaining about their boss.
  • Employees whose manager often uses “seagull-type” behaviors are 30 percent more likely to develop coronary heart disease than employees of a manager who rarely exhibits these behaviors.

Few organizations recognize the degree to which managers are the vessels of a company’s culture, and even fewer work diligently, through training and coaching programs, to ensure that their vessels have the knowledge and skills that motivate employees to perform, feel satisfied, and love their jobs.

The Seagull Manager
Seagull managers frustrate and alienate those who need them the most by engaging in three behaviors which are the hallmarks of a disenfranchising and unproductive work environment:

Swooping: Rather than staying current and involved with their team’s performance, seagull managers swoop in on problems only at the last minute.

Squawking: Seagull managers have an unhealthy need for control, which leads to one-sided conversations and orders in the place of advice.

Dumping: People who work for a seagull manager are always waiting for the hammer to drop. Praise is infrequent or nonexistent. Mistakes are punished without constructive feedback or opportunity for improvement.

The Three Virtues of Superior Managers
In the course of my work with organizations large and small, I’ve witnessed a peculiar common trait among the most successful enterprises. These companies step confidently beyond the success strategies of conventional business wisdom—brand strength, strategic leadership, technological innovation, customer service, and the like—to leverage the single greatest resource inside every company: its people.

To date, the TalentSmart Study has analyzed more than 150,000 managers in every industry, at every level of management, and in a wide variety of job functions. We’ve found that superior managers—those who lead their teams to the highest levels of performance and job satisfaction—often share three critical habits. Those three habits are:

1) Set clear expectations: Superior managers ensure that employees’ efforts are spent doing the right things the right way. This means thoroughly exploring what is required of employees, how their performance will be evaluated in the future, and getting agreement and commitment to work toward established goals. There is a big difference between telling people what’s expected of them and making sure that what they’ll be doing is completely understood.

To improve expectation setting, make sure you’re the one explaining what’s expected, and what needs to be done. Don’t pass this responsibility to someone else.

2) Communicate frequently: Observe what employees say and do, and speak openly with them about their work. Deliver the resources, guidance, and recognition your employees need by communicating frequently and in simple terms.

To improve communication, check in with your team frequently and with sincere interest. You can’t help people get results if you don’t know how they’re doing.

3) Attention and feedback: Pay attention to each employee’s performance, and offer praise as frequently and emphatically as you do constructive feedback. Positively reinforce successful endeavors and realign efforts that become misdirected.

To improve employee performance, schedule time in your calendar each day where you focus solely on the needs of your team. Remember, as a manager, your primary purpose is managing people.

Are You A Seagull Manager?
If this article has achieved its purpose, you’ve asked yourself that question at some point along the way. But the real question is, when are you a seagull manager? It would be wonderfully simple—albeit frightening—if we could each be categorized as the “right” or “wrong” kind of manager. We can’t just target “problem” managers, when the reality is that we’re all the problem. That’s right. Every single one of us is a seagull manager sometimes, in some situations, and with some people. The real challenge lies in understanding where your seagull tendencies get the better of you, so that you can fly higher and eliminate the negative influences of seagull behavior.

Dr. Travis Bradberry is an award-winning author and president of TalentSmart, a global consultancy dedicated to the scientific study of individual excellence and company performance serving more than 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies. His book Squawk! How to Stop Making Noise and Start Getting Results addresses the problem of seagull managers in the workplace.

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