Four out of 10 managers sap the will to work

Mar 17 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Managers, by the very definition of the word, are supposed to manage, to get things done and make a positive difference. But, according to new British research, more than four out of 10 actually have a destructive effect and create a morale-sapping, demotivating climate.

A study by management consultancy Hay has argued that more than an astonishing half of senior managers fail to generate high-performance working climates.

This failure costs the UK's financial services sector alone some £8.5bn in reduced profits, it calculated.

The research of more 2,800 leaders across 12 industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, technology and telecoms, analysed the gap between what employees felt was their ideal working climate against what they actually experienced.

It found that as much as one third of an organisation's business performance was dependent on this creation of a positive working climate.

Yet fewer than a quarter of business leaders created a high-performance climate, while just an additional fifth managing to generate an energising working atmosphere.

By contrast, nearly six out of 10 failed to create a positive working climate, with more than four out of 10 business leaders actually succeeding in creating a demotivating climate for staff and a further 16 per cent only managing to generate a neutral environment.

Chris Watkin, UK head of talent management at Hay, said: "Up to 30 per cent of business performance is dependant on a motivational working climate. And in times of economic uncertainty, maximising staff motivation and discretionary effort will be more critical than ever.

"Yet our research demonstrates that business leaders are struggling to create the right climate to motivate employees and drive high performance. UK Plc urgently needs a climate change," he added.

At the heart of this "climate crisis" lay an inability among business leaders to adopt the right leadership approach, in other words that of fostering team performance.

The broader the range of styles a leader used, the more likely he or she was to create a high performance climate, the research also found.

More effective leaders were generally better at adapting their leadership styles to the specific needs of a particular situation or team member.

The research identified six main leadership styles managers can employ: directive, pacesetting, visionary, affiliative, participative and coaching.

Among those senior managers who did generate a high-performance climate, three quarters regularly used three or more of these leadership styles. Of those generating negative climates, the same proportion used two or fewer.

"You wouldn't go round a golf course armed only with a putter. A player needs a whole set of clubs in order to adapt to whatever situations the golf course throws at him," said Watkin.

"In the same way, business leaders need to rely on a range of approaches, and to be able to adapt them to each team member or business situation," he added.

The study also identified some revealing trends about which leadership styles make for better team performance.

Seven out of 10 business leaders who created high-performance climates tended to use the more collaborative or team-based management approaches (affiliative, participative and coaching).

By contrast, those generating demotivating climates tended more towards individualistic styles, such as directive and pacesetting, with more than half relying predominantly on these two.

"Every leadership style has its place – each can be effective in different circumstances," Watkin added.

"However, our research suggests that the more collaborative styles win out when it comes to creating a high-performance workplace.

"The message for managers would seem to be: teams respond better to support than to coercion," he concluded.

Older Comments

Nic, thanks for the great post about how to avoid bringing the worse out of people. Just as an FYI, I tagged your post under our Fostering Relationships label in our Personal Leadership Insight tag system. We are up to 500 plus tags now. Thought you and your readership would get some value out of perusing the pool. Just go to and search for pliblog. Thanks again for the great post!

Rhett Laubach Edmond, OK

This is a good reminder of the difficulties organizations are having in finding and developing great managers. I've started a blog, Manager by Design, that explores the 'designs' that are currently being used to create managers, and tips for managers on how to improve their practice as managers. The url is

Walter Seattle