I have interviewed a lot of people in my career in Automotive Executive Search, and there is something I have been noticing more and more over the last couple of years. For want of a better way to put it, it is a rise in evidence of poor behaviours in the workplace or, more specifically, in how people treat one another.

Most people, when asked to discuss their management style, say that their philosophy is to treat people how they wish to be treated. It’s probably the commonest single response I hear (before I start to challenge that response). And yet, at the same time, a lot of people I speak to are less than happy about how they are being treated at work. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that the majority of people leave their manager, not their job.

So the question for me is this: when nearly everyone you speak to says they treat others as they wish to be treated, and a significant number of people you speak to say that they’re not happy with how they’re being treated, what is going on?

The reasons for this are doubtless complex and numerous, but here are a few.

  • We’re all different and what’s good for you is not necessarily good for me.

An obvious point, this, but what “good treatment” may mean to me is not necessarily what it means to you. Even so, I find it difficult to believe that most of us cannot broadly agree on what constitutes a framework of decent behaviours, remember to say please and thank you, and follow a clear set of guidelines (even if they’re taped inside our notebook or laptop) reminding us that it is good to praise in public and right and proper to rebuke in private – unless for a very good reason.

I am aware of the premium placed on high EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) by organisations who are seeking senior managers and leaders. This premium is no coincidence. The higher up an organisation you go, the greater the ripple effect of your behaviours. A capricious or vindictive junior manager will have an impact alright, but probably one that can be contained, remedied relatively easily and will upset a few people. Move a lot higher up the chain and the effect is amplified. I can’t help but wonder if self-awareness is so highly cherished a quality because it us much, much rarer than we think. And I sometimes find myself wondering whether people who claim a high degree of self-awareness are evidencing a lack of it by claiming to have it in the first place! (A difficult conundrum to answer).

  • It’s easy to want to treat people well, but people can change when the pressure is on.

It’s a competitive world and people in organisations everywhere are under tremendous pressure to deliver. What someone says in an interview, when they’re generally trying to present the best version of themselves, is not necessarily how they will behave whilst juggling conflicting priorities and management meetings, and then receive a piece of bad news. (The skill here, for a Search professional at least, is in getting to know your candidate and challenging them to evidence their EQ and ability to keep calm while all around them are losing their heads).

  • Many people think management only travels in one direction: they’re wrong.

Many people don’t know how to manage their managers. I have counselled quite a lot of people over the years on this subject. An in-depth analysis is beyond the context of this article, but people seem to forget that managing upwards is every bit as important (arguably more so for your career prospects) as managing downwards. In the automotive industry, matrix management, dotted line responsibility, board and non-executive responsibilities abound, and the different ways that people are required to exert an influence are numerous. Good communication – and that includes finding ways to be very honest without being confrontational – is possible with most managers, even the difficult ones.

It might sound perverse to say that you owe it to someone whose management style grates with you to give them a chance to do better, but it’s true. (You should also know when to cut your losses). Your manager is a person too; they may well be someone who has been promoted into managing people because there was no other way to progress them – a sad fact of many organisations that has resulted in entire generations of poor managers in all sorts of industries. Just because someone is your manager it doesn’t mean they’re the finished article. I strongly feel that you should give your manager a chance before you sack them (by leaving). This is something that is very challenging for a lot of people, particularly people who are not natural communicators.

  • People who are out of their depth can respond to the pressures of that in a number of ways.

That can include turning their frustrations and their fears outwards. I’m sure you’ve met them: the manager whose body language, tone of voice and even dress code bespeaks of someone who is outwardly aggressive and inwardly terrified. They exist, and although it is hard not to take it personally, their treatment of other people is rarely about those people, and more often about themselves.

  • It takes heart and nerve to behave consistently – particularly consistently well – in the ever more demanding world in which we find ourselves.

At Ennis & Co, as you would expect, we do as much as we can to ensure our clients’ brands are well-represented, so that candidates know the company they are interviewing for. For me, this is an important part of “cultural on-boarding”. Together with a series of good interviews which put a candidate under a lot of (positive) scrutiny, it’s part of a process of ensuring not only that you know what are getting from a candidate, but that they know what they are getting from a role and from a company. It increases your chance of getting the right person; the person who is up to the job not just intellectually, but emotionally.

  • In the end, there will always be people who are simply impossible.

People who leave an organisation because they’re not happy will find themselves in a better place. They may go through fire for a while, but in the vast majority of cases, they will end up happier.

I love continuing to find great and inspirational leaders of the future. If you’d like to know more about Ennis & Co and we approach assignments, contact us confidentially at hello@ennisco.com.