People may join companies, but they leave bosses. 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 managers and organizations treat people.
In the course of my work with organizations large and small, I've witnessed a peculiar commonality 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. 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 their vessels hold the knowledge and skills that motivate employees to perform, feel satisfied, and love their jobs.
Through my involvement in the TalentSmart Study—an effort to go inside the world’s leading organizations and differentiate the habits that produce success from those that are inconsequential or harmful—I've obtained a bird's-eye view of the practices that are essential to a manager's job performance and the satisfaction of his or her staff. 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, and we’ve found that superior managers—those who lead their teams to the greatest levels of performance and job satisfaction—often share three critical habits. These habits, or virtues of superior managers, are the polar opposites of the three distinguishing characteristics of a seagull manager: swooping, squawking, and dumping.
Whereas the seagull manager creates the need to swoop in and set his team straight, the superior manager gets everyone headed in the right direction from the very beginning by ensuring that expectations are full fledged. Whereas the rare visit from the seagull manager results in a lot of squawking, the superior manager maintains a steady flow of clear communication. And whereas the seagull manager manages his team's performance by dumping on everybody, the superior manager ensures that positive and negative feedback are delivered in small, digestible doses.
We've all been there—sitting in the shadow of a seagull manager who decided it was time to roll up his or her sleeves, swoop in, and squawk up a storm. Instead of taking the time to get the facts straight and work alongside the team to realize a viable solution, the seagull manager deposits steaming piles of formulaic advice and then abruptly takes off, leaving everyone else behind to clean up the mess. Seagull managers interact with their employees only when there's a fire to put out. Even then, they move in and out so hastily—and put so little thought into their approach—that they make bad situations worse by frustrating and alienating those who need them the most.
The seagull manager is an increasingly common phenomenon hovering in today's workplace. As companies flatten in response to the competitive changes created by new technology, industry regulation, and expanding global trade, they gut their management layers. The remaining managers are left with more autonomy, greater responsibility, and more people to manage. That means they have less time and less accountability for focusing on the primary purpose of their job—managing people. While there have probably always been seagull managers hovering inside the workplace, the recent flattening of organizations is breeding them like wildfire.
It's easy to spot a seagull manager when you're on the receiving end of their airborne dumps, but the manager doing the squawking often is unaware of the negative impact of this behavior. And they aren't the only ones. In the vast majority of organizations, senior leadership is unschooled in the profoundly negative impact the seagull managers hovering about their organization are having on its bottom line. The very individuals with the authority to alter the course of an organization’s culture lack the facts that would impel them to do so.
Here are some of the hard truths we have to face every day in the world of work:
- 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 uses these behaviors.
- More than two-thirds of North Americans are actively considering leaving their current job, with their employers suffering annual losses in excess of $360 billion from this employee dissatisfaction.
- Approximately 50 percent of Americans hate their jobs, and job satisfaction has sunk to the lowest level in twenty years.
Some facts remind us it's not easy being the one in charge:
- Twenty-one percent of people would be willing to take their boss’s job.
- Thirty-five percent of employees have a tough time communicating with their boss.
- Sixty-four percent of managers admit they need to work on their management skills. When asked where they are supposed to focus, managers overwhelmingly say, "Bringing in the numbers"; yet, they are most often fired for poor people skills.
- After more than 20 years satirizing management culture through his wildly successful Dilbert comic strip, Scott Adams agreed to roll up his sleeves and manage a restaurant he had co-owned for years from a safe distance. His foray into the rough-and-tumble world of management was a humbling one, and he was honest about his shortcomings in the real world, "I'm quite sure I've succumbed to...flying in every so often and dumping on everything." There's a seagull manager born every minute!
Are You A Seagull Manager?
If this exploration has achieved its purpose, you’ve asked yourself that question at some point along the way. But the real question is not are you a seagull manager but 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 you can fly higher and eradicate 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. His new book, “Squawk! How to Stop Making Noise and Start Getting Results” addresses the problem of seagull managers in the workplace. To learn more, visit www.talentsmart.com.