Research shows clear, supportive supervisors motivate employees just as well as larger-than-life leaders
Good news for boss introverts: Charisma isn’t a deal-breaker.
In fact, leaders who support employees and set clear expectations are just as effective motivators as trailblazing leaders with big visions, according to new research.
Michigan State University business scholars conducted field studies and experiments with hundreds of managers and employees in various industries, including professional services, manufacturing and government. They examined how a manager’s mindset affected his or her behavior, as well as employee motivation.
And they found bosses with an innovative mindset — like Apple founder Steve Jobs or Spanx mastermind Sara Blakely — who led in a transformative way (called promotion focus) were more likely to spur an equally innovative mindset in their employees; no big surprise there. But bosses with a more conservative mindset who focused on meeting basic obligations and preventing errors (or prevention focus) – and communicated that clearly to employees – were just as motivational, in their own way.
“Effective leadership may be based in part on leader’s ability to recognize when a particular mental state is needed in their employees, and to adapt their own mental state and their behaviors to elicit that mindset,” said study coauthor and professor Brent Scott. “Part of the story here is that you don’t have to be Steve Jobs to be an effective leader. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing.”
In fact, research has repeatedly shown that more humble, unassuming people make great leaders by creating more collaborative work environments and encouraging employees to emulate humility in admitting their mistakes and being more open to feedback and new ideas.
After all, it’s unrealistic to expect a leader to be larger-than-life all the time. And the study found that the managing sweet spot actually falls somewhere in between motivating through innovation and rewards (Go big! Go bold! The sky’s the limit!) and taking a more preventative approach (Avoid mistakes at all cost, and don’t miss this deadline or else we’re in big trouble.)
“It’s not sexy like transformational leadership,” Scott said, “but it’s something that just about every manager can do because it doesn’t require you to ooze charisma.”
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