Is leadership bad for you?

Cartoon of upset, screaming womanAccording to workplace research giant Gallup, 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement is directly attributable to management.

Translating that to plain English: if you’ve got a good manager, you’re more likely to be happy, engaged, and productive than if you have a bad manager.

Aye-aye, Captain Obvious! Like many research studies, this is hardly surprising. I think we’ve all been there, done that with the bad manager. (Hopefully also with the good manager!)

Here’s another statistic: at least half the people you work with either have quit in the past, or will quit at some time in their career future, just because of a bad manager. As the saying goes, people join jobs, and quit managers.

Yet many people don’t realize that they’re not alone in this struggle to cope with bad leadership – which means that however obvious these statistics are, they can help people feel less isolated. And they’re useful to start the conversation about what to do about the problem.

Because the benefits of good leadership are important for everyone involved:

  • The leader operates from a place of confidence, displaying sound decision-making skills and professional empathy for their team.
  • The individuals on the team feel understood, cared for, and appropriately challenged by their leader.
  • The company (and therefore senior leadership) benefits because their teams are meeting or exceeding expectations, thereby directly improving corporate outcomes and the bottom line.
  • Even the customers benefit, because the product or service they experience is likely to be of higher quality.

Here’s another unhappy statistic: 60 percent of new leaders fail in their first year.

This is hugely expensive and deeply tragic.

Hugely expensive

Google “cost to replace a manager,” and you’ll get numbers in the range of 15 to 20 percent of total compensation.

That’s low by a factor of almost 250 percent. That’s not a typo: two hundred fifty percent. And that’s a conservative estimate of how much it costs when you factor in failed or delayed projects, diminished team engagement and productivity, and all the myriad costs of hiring a new first-line manager.*

Deeply tragic

When we’re unhappy and stressed at work, we’re going to take that home with us. Family relationships suffer, relationships with friends suffer, and we struggle with even more stress when our support structures falter because we’re unhappy, cranky, and hard to live with. And if we’re one of the 60 percent who fails … now our self-image is beaten down right when we’re in the middle of having to find a new job.

And our health suffers

More studies: statistics show that people who are stressed at work are significantly more likely to experience illness, including cancer and heart disease.

That’s probably another “aye-aye Captain Obvious” statement, since I think we’re all aware that stress is bad for our health … but I also think we tend to shuffle that awareness aside, not wanting to look squarely at what it means for us and our situation.

Leadership and wellbeing

The thing is, leadership doesn’t have to be bad for your health – physical, mental, or emotional.

As a leader, you know there are things you don’t know about leadership, no matter what level you’ve achieved within your organization. Even CEOs know this: Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, was quoted in the New York Times recently as saying that every CEO has times when they have no idea what they’re doing and are sure everyone knows they’re just faking it.

Newly-promoted first-line managers need and deserve training and support to learn good management and leadership skills (and avoid developing bad habits). It’s that simple.

Because 60 percent of leaders shouldn’t fail in their first year. And work shouldn’t be a stress-inducing, illness-creating, emotionally-draining experience for anyone.


* To see the employee replacement costs calculations – which have been verified by multiple senior HR executives – click here to download the costing spreadsheet. It includes an example, and allows you to fill in your own data as well.

gljudson Leadership