THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE

By Ivan Whitaker

There is a great deal of literature on how to improve morale in the workplace. All around the country motivational speakers attempt to influence leaders to implement a variety of practices to improve the tone of the work culture. With the numerous resources and “rah-rah” talk, it puzzles me that one of the key contributors to poor morale in 9-1-1 communications is leadership, especially in acknowledging such a stressful environment.

I have formed the opinion that some leaders believe subconsciously that morale is a non-quantifiable, esoteric, and elusive state that cannot be changed at the core.

Is poor morale simply the “nature of the business?” I think not! We must place the state of morale square on the shoulders of leadership: “Who else?” When a coach fails to believe he or she is responsible, the team may not reach its full potential.

In my leadership positions I asked myself the following:

•Am I positive?

Am I able to motivate my employees?

Do my subordinates become better employees under my leadership?

•Do they trust me? (More so, am I trustworthy?)

Do I have a clear vision of the direction of the organization, and do I believe in the mission or vision?

•Am I able to articulate the mission and vision and do I have the resources to be persuasive?

•Do I make solid decisions that are ethical and absent of cynicism, gossip, and rhetoric?

•Does my leadership style create cliques and silos?

•Do I lead by inducing fear?

•Am I emotional, unpredictable, and unapproachable?

•Do I empower employees?

•Do I engage in succession planning? (i.e., have I identified potential replacements for my position, and do I readily train these employees?)

Leaders must openly communicate their willingness to improve. The plan of action to do so must be shared with subordinates and followers. Subordinates should be able to witness their leader actively engaged in enhancing his or her skills.

The shared plan of action does the following:

It creates a learning environment. Employees will see that their superiors are taking the lead in improving their organizational and leadership skills. This will encourage subordinates to do the same, especially those seeking to be leaders within the profession. 

It allows organizations to keep pace. Many leaders may be stuck in the past. Nothing is more frustrating than listening to a leader speak of how things were different in the past or how employees were better. A manager or director leads individuals “today.” Many tricks are learned through experience, but what worked in the past will not always work in the future. It takes different strokes for different folks and different generations.

You will remain “in shape” from a leadership perspective. I recently began to work out and exercise. In my mind, I knew I could at least do 25 push-ups. I lay on the floor, got in my push-up stance, and could not believe it. I thought I could do the push-ups on demand, even without exercising. This was a false perception. The same applies to leadership. If leaders or directors do not engage in improving skills on a daily basis, their ability to lead will be lost. This is when we revert to fear tactics and create silos.

I often speak to leaders and potential leaders about 360-degree evaluations. There are several good 360-degree evaluations online. Do not reinvent the wheel. Verbally explain intentions. Make the evaluation anonymous and report the findings to employees. Provide them with a plan of action for improvements. Remember, perception is reality!

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