Tips for Effective Workplace Communication – The 1/99 Leader to Follower Ratio

Some experts tell us that for every one leader there are ninety-nine followers. When communicating with staff members, it helps to know where these people fall within the category of the 1 to the 99. The two extremes may require a different way of communicating, and so everything in between. The same tool can be used when trying to identify the leaders in your company. The expectations of each will be different also, both from their points of view and yours.

One of the most neglected skills of management is the skill of RECOGNITION — recognizing the potential in their people. Many companies have highly capable employees who are treated as if they are just out of school. The 1’s are treated like the 99’s. This is a fatal move! It is a good way for the company to lose what Robert E. Kelley, called Gold Collar workers in his book “The Gold Collar Worker – Harnessing the Brainpower of the New Workforce”.

Knowing this 1/99 ratio will help identify if an individual fits in the 1% or the 99%, or somewhere in-between. Some may be already there and are not being used in their full capacity. They may not be recognized or they may actually be dwarfed.

An example of not recognizing an already-made leader is where an individual joins a company after having had his/her own business for many years. In the capacity of owning a business, that person has most likely learned and earned the skills of management or leadership. But, in hard times, that person may take on a lower level position, even clerical work, in a company, temporarily. The hiring manager looks at the résumé at the time of the interview, hires the person and never looks at the résumé again, even though all the executive/management skills are clearly illustrated.

As the employee shares and demonstrates his/her knowledge in the process of the work and problem-solving, management ignores it because of the present position held. In other words an individual may be an order desk clerk but has had years of experience dealing with high power executives, making presentations, closing sales, leading a sales team and monitoring financial statements, projections and budgets.

This is not uncommon in this day and age. Many have lost businesses in the eighties and nineties and have never been able to get back into it because starting a business is no longer like it was in the sixties and seventies. They may have to work for a while at lower jobs until they can get back to their level again. But during that time they are taken for granted instead of being harvested into productive critical positions.

These entrepreneurial types cannot wait years to move up, they’ve already had their training, they already think at higher levels — operating at lower levels of clerks and subordinates is totally frustrating to them. “Once expanded, the mind cannot return to its original size.” They need to be recognized and accordingly moved fast. Companies must harvest these gold mines right away or lose them. Sadly, most management people lose them, because they have not been trained to recognize the skilled and talented. They got there through doing their job, knowing their service or product line, but, unfortunately, that’s all they know: their “line”. They haven’t trained themselves to know beyond that.

I remember doing a short-term contract for a multi-million dollar corporation. In my interview with the operations manager, I was asked about my Ph.D. listed on my résumé. We briefly talked about it and moved on. I was hired and after several months, when I finished my contract, the same manager asked me for my phone number, in case he needed some information. When I handed him my business card, he saw the Ph.D. and said with a surprised look and tone: “Ph.D.?” I said, “You knew that!” He had completely forgotten. That’s how insignificant it was to him when he interviewed me. All the time I was there, I was never taken at my level. I was to do my job as asked, nothing more, nothing less. My views and comments meant nothing, even when they were good, they were not explored further. I was there to do a specific job and that was it.

It is always up to top management to create the environment to recognize these people — for the company’s own good. Unfortunately most managers don’t see this. Some of the immediate managers or supervisors may even feel threatened by someone who may know more than they do, so they will not promote their ability. The less they ask questions and the less they discuss with them, the better it is for these managers. Just do what you need to do. Andrew Carnegie’s epitaph reads, “Here lies a man who knew how to enlist into his service people better than himself”. It should be placed on every manager’s desk.

I know of another organization where top management made sarcastic remarks to their managers in management meetings such as, “we have all these managers yet the company has to bring in outside consultants to fix problems.” And they did. These people would come and go. They would walk around doing their interviewing and digging, then make their recommendations, and the company managers who had been there for years were expected to follow them.

Yet top management did not listen to suggestions and ideas from its managers, who knew what needed to be done (a prophet is not welcomed in his own country). They just needed their leaders to listen to them and say “OK, let’s do it”, rally up behind them, support them, encourage them, give them the environment to get it done — in other words empower them! In this company (and in many companies) there is no leader to set up a “brainstorming” or “think tank” meeting where everyone is encouraged to speak their mind without being knocked down.

What outside consultants come up with in the majority of cases has already been suggested or thought about by their own people but has never been allowed to be put forth.

In one company, a memo came up one day on the e-mail, addressed to everybody. It announced that effective immediately all external correspondence should be sent to a general secretary for review and logging. Imagine, you as a manager, receiving such a mandate! This was a world class organization. Talk about empowering your people. This is de-powering and down right insulting. Needless to say, no one conformed to this draconian command. However, it wasn’t really the organization but one manager of a department who was simply not ready for leadership — and nobody was there to train her.

There are a lot of leaders and potential leaders out there. The ratio varies from company to company. Some organizations may attract a larger amount of leaders than the 1/99 average. Its ratio may be 2 out of 99 or 10 out of 99! In many high tech firms today, every employee is a manager level worker. These companies deal with specialized, high caliber people. It’s up to these companies to identify their ratio and provide the right environment to direct these special people to appropriate positions. But first, managers must develop themselves in the art of people management and recognition, and not be afraid of “snooping” or “fishing” around for these existing talents./dmh