There is a commonly used phrase I find myself returning too when coaching line managers to support their employees through the maternity or paternity transition. It is that most people join organisations but leave bosses. A generalisation certainly – however in my experience as a coach, one that has more than a ring of truth about it. It is this kernel of truth that gave me cause to reflect on how things might be different, particularly for those who are navigating the complexities of parenthood and performance work.
Research in the world of mental health into successful therapeutic outcomes suggests that is hugely predicated around the quality of the relationship between counsellor and client. Where the relationship is good and authentic, the likelihood of success and progress leaps. Where the relationship founders the outcome is bleak. This doesn’t mean that the relationship has to be devoid of challenge, quite the opposite, but the components of trust, support and unconditional positive regard as modelled by the therapist are crucial.
The term used for this interpersonal skill is the therapeutic alliance. This alliance is defined as the attachment and collaboration between the client and therapist (Bordin, 1979) and has been identified time and time again as an instrumental factor in relation to positive therapeutic change.
The parallels that exist in the world of work are huge and play out every day in the line manager and subordinate relationship. Whilst of course leaders and line managers are not expected to be therapists, they would do well to work harder at creating the relationship conditions needed to nurture and encourage performance, rather than to impatiently drive behaviours in pursuit of raising the bar (& what an overused phrase that is!).
It was Carl Rogers who coined the term unconditional positive regard and its essence is management gold. Many times, I have heard more enlightened leaders recognise that most employees don’t come to work to deliberately perform poorly. Yet the jump to a place in which leaders truly set the intention to non-judgementally see the good in their workers is somehow missed, particularly when the pressure is on.
Authentic relationships are a key component in our overall sense of wellbeing in the world. When our relationships in (or out of) the workplace are poor then wellbeing and subsequent performance suffers.
For leaders and managers, greater investment in time and care will pay back many times over. Less of the operational to-do meetings and more coffee and conversation, less hurried corridor catch ups replacing cancelled one to ones and more respectfully honoured development meetings are what’s needed. The ripple effect of ‘serve to lead’ as exemplified by officers in the British forces (The excellent paradoxical motto at Sandhurst Military Academy) cannot be underestimated.
So my invitation is for all line managers to truly lead the way in working harder to build better authentic relationship alliances with those they work with. To invest in the human being and not solely the human doing. Having a great manager should not be down to luck, it should be a right.