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By: Barbara Bowes

Almost every manager I speak to talks about the amount of time they spend on human resource issues. Some even feel overwhelmed. Unfortunately, most of the issues relate to interpersonal conflict between employees, bullying, blaming, poor performance, job dissatisfaction, gossip, complaints and whiney attitudes.


According to Cy Wakeman, author of Reality Based Leadership, part of the challenge is that many employees have adopted learned helplessness both in their personal and professional lives. In her view, employees are feeling they lack control and have an inability to change their circumstances. This results in negative attitudes and presents a problem for leaders.

In her view, the fault lies with leaders who over-manage and don’t lead instead of coaching employees and developing their skills and expertise. When a leader acts in such a way, all they get from employees is excuses. This leads to even more workplace drama.

So what is the solution?

Wakeman suggests that, first of all, leaders need to stop arguing with reality and quit making excuses for not dealing with issues when they arise. They also need to stop ignoring the facts of the situation and stop creating their own mental stories in which they picture themselves as a victim.

They must take personal responsibility for their own thinking by recognizing how they distort their initial thinking and assumptions about a situation and then fail to deal with situations in a timely manner.

She suggests leaders need to recognize that viewing their situation from a judgmental manner can lead to a chain of events that results in negative emotions, distorted and inappropriate actions and tainted results. For instance, when a leader makes an assumption and labels an employee as “lazy,” then they haven’t examined the situation carefully and may even be distorting reality. In the end, more than likely, the employee will not have been treated fairly in terms of job assignments and career development. When a leader gets bogged down in their own distorted thinking, they will lack energy, feel significant stress and will fail to be a good leader.

Wakeman’s reality-based leadership framework is based on leading first and managing second. An overview of her advice includes the following:

  1. Resist the urge to do it yourself: The job of a leader is not to solve employee problems or complaints, but to help employees develop the skills to solve problems themselves. The leader should ask numerous questions, help the employee to challenge assumptions and reframe the situation. They need to be taught how to examine the different aspects of a problem, determine what information is missing, and confirm what action is within the employee’s control. In this way, the employee will learn to take responsibility and be accountable.
  2. Coach, coach, coach: Leaders need to help employees by reflecting back what they say about a problem. This feedback will often stun the employee into self-awareness and will lead them to an improved problem-solving mindset. Coach the employee on how to analyze a problem, how to examine the implications for the organization, brainstorm and evaluate potential solutions and then make thoughtful recommendations for action. When this type of thinking and analysis occurs, people feel in control, which in turn leads to job satisfaction.
  3. Work on confidence first: Fostering employee independence involves promoting confidence and competence. Encourage your employees and work with them to identify their strengths and then coach them through learning new things and reinforcing the skills needed to overcome areas of weakness. Acknowledge and compliment employees when they have reached success and continue to encourage them. Remember, confidence builds competence.
  4. Focus on the hearts and minds: Your job as a leader is to focus on the future to develop a compelling vision that you can share with your employees and encourage them to align their goals and objectives with yours. Delegate the technical aspects of your work whenever you can and avoid stepping in to take over or dictating step by step how things should be done. Focus on capturing the hearts and minds of your employees and get their goals aligned with yours.
  5. Let go of old duties: Sometimes when you are promoted to a leader, it is difficult to let go of old roles and responsibilities, especially those that you enjoyed. The same goes for promoting a staff person to a new role. It’s difficult for people to see an employee in a new role and so as leader, you must help with this transition. Provide a mentor to help transition the person to the new role and be sure to reassign old duties so the newly promoted individual can get on with learning their new role.
  6. Deflect emotional blackmail: Sometimes, employees make objections that have no grounds in fact. For instance, someone might say, “Well, you’ve never brought this up before.” This is an attempt to manipulate and pressure you. Be sure to acknowledge what people have said, avoid taking their comment personally and try to redirect them toward a more productive direction.
  7. Focus on the positive: Instead of paying so much attention to those employees who are not motivated, pay attention and reward those who are most willing. This will create role models who will be noticed within the organization. After all, they are the ones who are motivated and are the visionaries within your organization who will help to create and maintain a positive culture. Let people know what competencies are going to get rewarded.
  8. Provide ongoing feedback: In Wakeman’s view, the cause of all employee issues is the lack of feedback from a leader. They deserve to have frequent and honest feedback about what they are doing well and what areas need development. Employees need to have a review of their job description, and be considered for new opportunities. They deserve to be mentored.
  9. Deal with resistance: Leaders need to make employees aware that buy-in to the vision and mission of their organization is not optional. This takes managerial courage because you need to address a lack of alignment quickly. You cannot afford to invest too much time trying to deal with resistance. If your efforts are not rewarded, it is time to help the employee move on with their career.


Leading and managing is not an easy job. However, it is made more difficult when a leader doesn’t face reality. Instead, they create a story around a situation that places them in a victim role, and they fail to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, they spend too much time trying to fix employees who don’t want to get on board. No wonder many leaders and managers feel overwhelmed.

Wakeman’s advice? “Get real!”

About the Author: Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com. Learn more at www.barbarabowes.com.

Are you frustrated with your recruitment results? Have you had a rash of unqualified applicants and/or a candidate turn down your salary? When was the last time you conducted in-depth reference checking inclusive of educational credentials, personal credit, and/or driver’s convictions? And what about your interview team… are they using best practice interview strategies that are legally compliant with provincial legislation? Do you even know what legislation protects your potential candidates?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it is time to conduct an in-depth audit of your recruitment and selection process.

As external consultants, we would work with you to develop and customize an audit checklist that will meet the needs of your organization. We would first meet and inquire about how you go about your candidate criteria. Do you simply repost an old job description and/or do you take the time to review and determine whether or not it is still valid?

This is one of the first steps to ensuring you are attracting the right kind of candidate. This stage of criteria development is the most important process element. Without careful consideration and accuracy, you will be off and running… but in the wrong direction!

The next area of assessment is to identify where and how you plan to identify your candidates. First of all, have you determined whether or not an internal candidate could be considered? Are you only using one marketing strategy? Is it working? If not, why? Perhaps your methodologies are outdated and/or the candidates you are seeking don’t refer to this source for their news. If you are not attracting good candidates, it is time to do a review of this element of your search strategy.

What is your process for evaluating your candidates? Is it a simple two-step process… an interview and reference checks? Will you utilize a panel of interviewers or a series of interviews with different members of the management team? Are your interview team members trained on best practice interview strategies? Do you have specific interview questions aligned with the tasks and skills required? Are your questions compliant with legislation? An audit will identify strengths and weaknesses in this area.

The next search element is actually making the candidate selection. How do you select your final candidates? Do you simply rely on your one interview and a quick reference check? Are you using psychometric assessment tools to provide in-depth personality and character evaluations? If not, why not? What about the background check mentioned earlier? Without a combination of these elements, your selection process is not meeting the standards of best practice.

The last series of process steps includes developing an effective employment offer and solidifying the agreement. Are you offering a market fair salary? Have you even checked to see how the market has changed since your last recruitment? Does your salary respect the level of expertise offered by the candidate? Have you defined the salary with respect to internal equity within your organization? If not, you risk losing your good candidates!

The recruitment and selection process doesn’t end the day you have a candidate sign on the dotted line. You also need to create an on-boarding and/or orientation program to help your new candidate fit in. What does your program look like? I can’t tell you how many new candidates are thrown to the so-called, “wolves” and expected to get to know the lay of the land all by themselves. Be careful, some candidates won’t last!

If your recruitment process has areas of weakness, then you will be at risk of failing to attract high quality candidates, losing candidates, paying too high a salary, or losing them within the first three months. No matter what, the best and most effective recruitment process is a rigorous, systematic process that must be managed at every step of the way. Perhaps it is time for a recruitment process audit!

By Jo Owen
Prentice Hall, 2007
Purchase here

No matter that this book was written in England, if you are looking for a practical “how to” book on gaining management influence and succeeding in organizations today, this is it! Owen suggests that high intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ) are simply not enough; instead, smart managers strive to develop solid political intelligence (PQ). In his view, political intelligence is all about understanding how an organization works and developing an ability to make things happen in a world of increasing ambiguity combined with decreasing authority. The author contends that political IQ is a learnable skill and recommends a six-step process to develop strategies that deal with the who, what, where, when, how, and why, of organizational power. The book is well laid out, easy to read, practical and straightforward. A quick but powerful read.