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How to rid the office of disengagement and ducking out.

How to rid the office of disengagement and ducking out

Twentieth-century American poet Robert Frost once remarked: 'The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.'

As with all good humour, Frost's remark contains more than a grain of truth. The fact is that, as the office environment has become more complex, managers spend increasing amounts of time writing reports and attending meetings.

This leaves their more diligent employees struggling to work out their own priorities and the rest simply coasting - carrying on doing what they have always done.

But this need not be the case. In Harvard Business Review's September 2011 issue, Yves (EVE) Morieux (M'ROO) argues that all employees can be empowered to give of their best if managers create an environment where people can co-operate to develop solutions on the ground. He puts forward 'smart rules' to help managers to mobilize their subordinates' skills and intelligence. First, provide the information employees need to understand where the problems are and empower the right people to make good choices. Secondly, set up feedback loops that expose employees as directly as possible to the consequences of their actions.

'The idea is to make finding solutions to complex performance requirements far more attractive than disengagement, ducking co-operation or finger-pointing,' says Yves Morieux.

In Harvard Business Review's September 2011 issue, Charalambos Vlachoutsicos builds on this idea by arguing that an empowered team enhances everyone's performance, including the manager's. The vital ingredient in supporting and encouraging employees, he says, is fostering a sense of mutual dependence every time a manger interacts with subordinates.

The author offers six lessons to achieve mutuality. The manager should: be modest, avoid talking about his or her track record, and focus on other people's needs; listen seriously, and show it; invite disagreement, but deliver the invitation artfully so that people really do come forward and speak up; focus the agenda, and not let discussion become chaotic in the name of openness; avoid seeming to have all the answers, and instead be a catalyst for problem solving; and not insist that a decision must be made, but give the decision-making process time to 'breathe', even if that sometimes means delaying a conclusion.

In similar vein, in the July 2011 issue of Quality Progress, Shu Liu highlights the importance of emotional intelligence in great leaders and successful organizations. The author explores how four components of emotional intelligence - self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management - fit together to drive organizations to succeed in a dynamic world characterized by innovative technology, a diversified workforce, easy access to information and economic globalization.

Meanwhile, in Volume 32, Issue 1, of Leadership & Organization Development Journal (published in 2011), Geoff Sheard et al, argue that effective leadership requires managers to harness power that is intrinsically political, since politics is essentially to do with the resolution of conflict.

Over three years, the authors studied three multinational engineering companies which, engaged in the design, development and manufacturing of turbo-machinery, experienced a major product failure. They analyzed how managers behaved at the companies and what most strongly influenced their effectiveness.

The authors conclude that the political behaviour in which managers engage when taking leadership action is rooted in the adversity that the most capable managers have both experienced and overcome. Managers generally accept that political behaviour is inseparable from effective leadership, even though they tend to view the word 'politics' negatively and consider political behaviour as the 'shadowy side' of leadership action.

One thing is for certain; political behaviour at the office involves the full engagement of a manager's faculties. Anyone sleeping on the job will quickly be found out - as Robert Frost should have known!