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Good leaders need to talk less, listen more, finds study

By Workplace Staff

Strong leadership results in dramatic effects on work engagement, team performance and innovation, according to a recent study of leadership in the Canadian workplace. However, the report also shows that poor leadership has negative effects on employee morale, project success and working relationships.

The study, conducted by Psychometrics Canada, a leading assessment publisher and consultant for the development and selection of people in business, government and education, which involved a poll of 517 human resources professionals across Canada, confirms that leadership is seen as an important area of organizational functioning and development. The majority (63.2 per cent) see leaders as having a lot of influence over their organizations’ success, with only 2.5 per cent reporting that leaders have very little influence. The most common effects of good leadership are increased motivation (85.5 per cent), improved working relationships (85.1 per cent), higher team performance (80.7 per cent), better solutions to problems (68.9 per cent), and major innovations (41.6 per cent).

Leadership does have its downside, however. When not properly used, leadership can have negative effects. HR professionals have witnessed good people quitting and a lack of morale (91.7 per cent), employees’ skills not being utilized (87.2 per cent), feuding staff members (68.3 per cent), and failed projects (60 per cent). Three-quarters (76 per cent) have also witnessed a disconnection between the organization’s goals and its employees’ work.

"These figures should be a strong alert to organizations that poor leadership could be causing them major problems,” says Shawn Bakker, psychologist at Psychometrics Canada. "Our results show that leadership is influential, and organizations with effective leadership in place are realizing a wide range of benefits including increased financial performance and improved work relationships."

When asked to rate the importance of various leadership skills to success, 90 per cent of respondents reported that communication is critically important, followed by dealing with change (52.6 per cent), managing people (48.2 per cent), setting goals (37.5 per cent), solving problems (30.3 per cent), and project management (12 per cent).

The study also uncovered a serious gap between the ratings of importance for these skills and leaders’ current level of effectiveness. Only 27.8 per cent of respondents rated leaders’ communication skills as effective, even though nine out of 10 see communication as a critical skill. Twenty-four per cent of respondents indicated that the leaders they know are not effective when it comes to dealing with change.

Respondents cited a number of obstacles that get in the way of today’s leaders developing their skills. These include leaders not seeing the need for improvement (67.5 per cent), not having enough time (63.1 per cent), lacking support from superiors (50.1 per cent), and having inadequate training budgets (41.6 per cent).

Recommendations for leaders

Recommendations for leaders to be more effective included:

  • talking less and listening more (81.4 per cent),
  • providing clear expectations (78.1 per cent),
  • having more informal interaction with staff (75.6 per cent),
  • clearly communicating how the organization plans to manage change (89.4 per cent),
  • assigning tasks to staff based on their skills rather than office politics (71.4 per cent),
  • holding people accountable (67.7 per cent),
  • giving employees more responsibility (64.6 per cent),
  • overcoming resistance to change (48 per cent), and
  • deferring to people with greater expertise (63.1 per cent).

 “What surprised me from our research was that, even with the understanding that leadership is key for organizational success, the leaders themselves were not actively pursuing their own development – despite the opportunities available,” says Mark Fitzsimmons, president of Psychometrics Canada.

To read the complete report, visit

Fact Sheet

  • From November through December 2009, Psychometrics Canada surveyed 517 HR professionals currently working in Canadian organizations. These individuals work in business, government, consulting, education and not-for-profit sectors.
  • The majority of people see leaders as influential. Yet, six out of 10 people also believe that leaders are given too much credit for what their organization accomplishes. So although leadership is significant, its impact may be overstated.
  • It does not matter whether leaders are in business, government, consulting, education, or not-for-profit; the ranking of skills’ importance does not change.
  • Three out of four HR professionals have seen feeble management of people lead to wasted time, duplicated efforts and poor working relationships. More than half of the survey respondents have observed team members working against each other as a result of ineffective leadership.
  • Other problems that come from poor leaders are missed opportunities, workplace conflict, increased sick days and absences, and qualified people being shown the door.
  • 10.8 per cent of respondents have seen the inability to lead through change result in a company going out of business.
  • Almost three-quarters have seen employees resist change that management proposes because it was poorly managed.
  • 67.3 per cent of respondents said the ideal leader for their organization would be “someone who is democratic and involved, focuses on working with and through people.”
  • Based on a sample of 26,477 leaders (Center for Creative Leadership), 40 per cent of people in leadership roles today are described as being thorough, orderly and focused on organizational stability and consolidating systems. Thirty-nine per cent of leaders say their style is being pragmatic and analytical, and focusing on the development of long-range, comprehensive plans. Only 12 per cent of today’s leaders have a primary style that is democratic and involved.

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