Becoming a More Positive Influence: Be Courageous Enough to ‘Work the Angles’

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Being an effective leader requires being courageous. But in what way?

When I speak to groups, I will occasionally ask them: “On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being very important, how important is it that a leader or manager focus on employee morale?”

I rarely get people who respond by indicating an ‘8’ or below. It is normally 10’s, with some 9’s.

Then, I will ask them: “On that same scale, how much emphasis does your leader or manager place on employee morale?”

I rarely get people who respond by indicating a ‘7’ or higher.

There seems to be a disconnect between how important morale is and how much emphasis is actually placed on it.

Why is that?

I think a primary reason why is because leaders and managers lack the foresight and courage to give employee morale its proper emphasis.

Let me explain.

What do most leaders and manager primarily focus on?

Generally, leaders and managers focus on is what is measured, which is usually some form of performance (e.g., sales, revenue).

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But, is that the best thing to focus on?

Surely it seems like the most reasonable thing to focus on, often because leaders’ and managers’ bonuses are tied to performance, however it is measured.

But, consider: How is a leader or manager likely to respond if his/her employees are performing at a level below what is expected?

If their primary focus is on performance, to them, the logical and best way to improve performance is commonly through micromanaging. (Of course, they don’t see it this way).

This situation happened to my wife when she was a teller at a bank. One day, her manager approached the tellers and told them that their customer service rankings were down, and if they didn’t pick up their ranking, he wouldn’t get his bonus for the month.

So, in his effort to enhance their customer service, he stripped their autonomy and personality, and required them to memorize a script to greet every customer with something along the lines of “Hello, welcome to Chase Bank, how can I serve you today?”

How excited would you be to get this directive?

Since his focus was on performance, he became unintentionally willing to put employee morale on the back burner in an effort to improve performance, and consequently, his bonus.

In response, customer service did go up in the short term. But, because employee morale went down, so did a variety of other performance metrics, including ultimately what the manager was trying to improve: customer service.

A Better Approach: ‘Working the Angles’

While it doesn’t come naturally, a much better approach to improving performance is to ‘work the angles.’

When we ‘work the angles,’ instead of focusing on the outcome of interest directly, we focus on the drivers of that outcome.

So, if our outcome of interest is employee performance, ‘working the angles’ suggests that rather than focus on employee performance directly, we actually place our focus on what drives employee performance: employee morale.

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This perspective may make sense on paper: the higher employee morale, the higher employee performance.

But, it is difficult to implement in practice. So difficult, that I believe it is rare!

It can be scary and uncertain to take our focus off of what is measured, and place it on something that doesn’t even get rewarded. In a way, it is a leap of faith.

Leap of faith or not, it does take courage. A purpose-fueled courage to step beyond what is emphasized and place it not on outcomes, but on people, and their morale.

Do you have the courage to ‘work the angles’ and focus on employee morale ahead of performance?

If you reflect upon the leaders and managers that have had the most positive influence on you, it is my guess that they have had this courage and that they ‘worked the angles.’ They likely cared much more about how you felt than how well you did. This is not that they weren’t concerned about how well you did, they just knew that you would give your all, if they gave you their all.

It is my hope that this article will help you step back and consider:

  • Where is my focus? On what is measured or on what drives what is being measured?

  • Do I care more about employee performance or employee morale?

  • What is going to lead to the best outcomes in the long term: employee performance or employee morale?

If you want to take on the challenge of being more courageous, let me recommend a book to start with: Bonds that Make Us Free. I have read it twice. Each time it has been a life-changer.

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