John Spence: admirable, aompetent leaders necessary for employee satisfaction


John Spence, Gainesville’s well-known business adviser, consultant and speaker, spoke at an April 25 fundraiser for the United Way of North Central Florida on the results of a research study he performed with more than 8,000 employees at top companies worldwide like Apple, Microsoft and Merrill Lynch. Spence donated the day to the event and from attendants’ donations alone he said that United Way raised more than $20,000.

The study, put together from reader surveys sent to companies, asked employees what they looked for in a leader and found that the idea of following the lead of the people in charge has changed in recent years as an older generation of workers has left the workforce and been replaced by younger employees who aren’t afraid to leave a job over poor management.

“The pendulum is swinging back from a dictatorial style of leadership,” Spence said. Employers today have to think of a way to keep employees engaged in order to keep them around.

“This new generation of young people wants respect and competence.” he said. “They want a leader who gives respect, demonstrates confidence and proves highly competent at their job. This is a big change-around. Years ago, the boss would say ‘Jump,’ and the employees would ask ‘How high?’ They would respect the corner office. The new generation was raised to expect respect and told they were special. They have a high level of self esteem and feel like their employer is lucky to have them.”

If one of these new workers isn’t happy after about six months, he said, they have no problem leaving for another position. If the work is unsatisfying, not engaging or if they feel they aren’t being treated fairly, they will jump ship right away, he warned.

In the responses he received, young workers tend to want five things in their job: pay 10 percent above or below the industry standard, challenging/meaningful work, opportunities for growth, “cool” colleagues, and a leader that they can admire. A recent research study he read said that 70 to 80 percent of people quit a position because of their immediate superior.

Six characteristics he found that define an admired leader are honesty, fairness, support, compassion, an inspiring presence and a forward-thinking attitude. Workers also desire an employer who listens well and learns from discussion, he said, which can be achieved with engaged body language, taking good notes during discussions and by pushing out extraneous information by repeating information to lock in what the employee is saying.

For employees who have not left but still may be performing poorly, he said, the best way to deal with the problem is not to get angry, but to step back and analyze if anything the employer is doing might be causing an issue.

“Think: ‘What am I doing to cause this?’ Is it a performance issue or a leadership issue? Have I provided all of the instruction or training they need, or provided the right level of support and equipment? Look in the mirror and make sure you’ve done everything you can to solve the problem.”

Once employers have taken that step, he said, the next step is to talk to the employee and get an agreement that he or she will meet a set of standards over 60 to 90 days. What this allows is a binary yes-or-no situation that can get an employee back on track and take out emotions or politics.

“I looked at another study that found that higher performing leaders lead to better communities,” he said. “And people will talk. One of the best ways to attract top talent is to get your top talent to evangelize.”

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