I have been playing war-games lately and a big component of these games is morale and the affects that a leader has on morale. A good leader at a minimum does not hinder his or her troops and hopefully provides a positive modifier to their actions. Conversely, a poor or ineffective leader can have a negative effect on his/her troops and can actually lower morale rather than boosting it. These leadership effects are present on the battlefield and equally present in the workplace.
In the workplace, people do not discuss morale much yet it plays an important part in day to day activities. High morale employees work harder, make better team members, are sick less often, volunteer more often and go the extra mile just because. While there are many factors that affect employee morale, leadership plays a key role in determining workplace morale.
Good leaders are attuned to the fact that their own morale is constantly being sensed by those that they supervise. The hope and energy they bring to the workplace along with a sense of purpose and determination play a significant role in the attitudes of subordinates. In some cases, the only reason an employee stays in a particular job is their like for their supervisor.
As a leader climbs the corporate ladder, there is an unfortunate tendency for his/her superiors to care less and less about his/her morale/well being. The idea being that as you climb the ladder you are becoming more self sufficient and your compensation makes up for any warm fuzzies you might be losing in the process.
Thus, this often leaves the leader alone in determining job satisfaction and general attitude towards his/her job. If one is not careful, the leader can find himself slipping into a funk that affects their own performance as well as those that report to him.
Again there are many factors that can influence a leader’s job satisfaction and overall morale, but for simplicity’s sake let’s lump them into home, health and workplace. While we are told to never bring “home” to the workplace, the inevitable truth of the matter is that problems at home will have an effect in the workplace given the number and/or severity of the home based issues. These issues can have a detrimental effect on a leader’s morale and must be dealt with - preferably outside of the workplace. Work is usually ill prepared to deal with these issues outside of providing employee assistance programs and some flexibility. Usually it is up to the individual to work their way through these issues.
Health plays a major role in determining a leader’s morale and for most people their physical and emotional well being is reflected in their work. It’s hard to stay motivated, display that sense of hope, purpose and determination that employees thrive on if you just plain feel bad. Thus a smart leader watches out for his/her well being knowing that better health generally equates with better performance and a happier state of mind.
Lastly we have workplace factors such as pay, influence, working conditions, lack of funding, pressure, workplace politics, coworkers, supervisors and subordinates to name a few that can boost or lower a leader’s morale. Most of the time these factors are fairly constant and while people may have an up or down day - morale stays generally even. However there are factors whose onset are so severe that they cause a huge dip in morale (such as a demotion, cut in pay, change in title or authority) or a large variety of little factors (the famous death by a thousand cuts syndrome) where someone reaches a breaking point and morale takes a huge hit.
A leader’s poor morale as noted above will have an impact on performance, both his own and his/her subordinates. Thus a leader needs to perform a self assessment periodically and ask “Why am I here? Am I doing what I want to be doing? And am I being effective at what I do?” Lastly, I feel that a leader should ask himself “Am I happy doing what I am doing?” If the answers to the questions listed above are not positive, a good leader should be motivated to make changes and/or begin looking for new/different opportunities.
Why should a leader be motivated to do the above? Primarily because of two reasons: (A) It really is a downer to be managed by an unhappy, unmotivated leader and they really owe it to their staff to make a change or move on and (B) If the individual is truly a leader, they will not be satisfied knowing they are in a situation that is making them unhappy and will seek to do something about it - preferably before others see the issues and step in to “help them out.”
In summary, leaders are often placed in positions where they are responsible for their own as well as their subordinate’s morale. While watching after others is often natural for a leader, watching after one’s self is often an alien concept. An important aspect of being a good leader is periodically doing self assessments to determine how well you are doing and if you are happy in the place that you are in. The results of the self assessment will inspire change in the leader or the leader to seek change. In either case, a benefit to both self and the organization.