A New Role for Leaders: The Organisational Pressure Valve


Recent research by SoundWave, which looked at over 5000 data sets, indicates a tendency for ‘assertive’ communication styles within teams. Managers report the ‘assertive’ forms of the SoundWave voices at disproportionately high levels.

In particular, team members are heard to ‘advocate’ and to ‘challenge’ their bosses strongly, and in many cases to use the accentuated form of these voices (to ‘preach’ and ‘attack’). They also have a tendency to ‘over-articulate’ (become verbose) and ‘over-diagnose’ (complexify).

SoundWave’s founder Kevin Eyre says, ‘Ordinarily, it’s tough to be on the receiving end of these voices. Their impact is often to generate stress and the experience is not always pleasurable.’ He continues, ‘why would we want to have that sort of effect on our boss? Why, as team members, do we do this?’.

Kevin thinks the answers lie in two possible causes. ‘Firstly’, he says, ‘in a trusting relationship, a team member might well ‘sound-off’ to his or her boss. As the frustrations of organisational life take hold, many team members need ‘to vent’. To whom is it better to ‘put the world right’ than to the understanding boss who can hear and absorb the frustrations of their team?’

He continues, ‘Secondly, the already under-pressure boss, sensitive to his or her own performance, hears the ‘challenge’ and ‘advocacy’ of team members, not for what it is (the passionate expression of what needs to change) but as something of a personal assault, and mis-interprets what’s being said.’

‘Managers often operate at ‘the organisational pressure valve’, serving to take the sting out of organisationally-induced stress.’

‘During the practice of providing feedback on SoundWave results and developing managers’ skills of social interaction, we sometimes come across cases where the second of our hypotheses rings true. But by and large, we support the first, that managers often operate at ‘the organisational pressure valve’, serving to take the sting out of organisationally-induced stress.’

The consequence for leaders is two-fold. ‘Managers need to make sure they’re listening closely and are not projecting their own anxieties on to what they may be hearing. They also need to help others to deal with stresses, and find a way to deal with their own.’

One such way is to hold the boundary between coaching and ‘counselling’. Whilst being sympathetic to the plight of team members, coach for accountability.

And the consequence for team members? ‘It’s simple’ says Kevin. ‘Recognise what you’re doing and accept that even pressure valves have their limits!’.

For more insight, read our research paper, The Language of Leadership



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