At the time of writing, the news is full of strikes. Teachers, train drivers, postal workers, nurses and ambulance workers are among those taking industrial action. There can be a limit to the role of a leader if a dispute centres only on pay. If workers are demanding a 20 per cent pay rise and the organisation can afford only two per cent, clearly that creates a problem.  

As is always the case in leadership, any solution involves good communication. It helps very much to be open with your team. If the organisation can’t afford a big pay rise, people are more likely to be understanding if you spell out the reasons why.  

Leaders are always most effective when they connect with people in the joint pursuit of a clear and compelling purpose. A good leader gives clarity and reassurance to their team. The more information and inspiration a leader can give their team, the safer those people feel. Openness goes a long way towards preventing misunderstanding and frustration. Knowing what is going on and feeling part of the bigger picture are powerful motivators. Lack of communication and lack of clarity will lead to mistrust; a feeling of disconnection is demoralising. 

If your organisation can’t afford the pay rise that your team would like, explain the situation. Employees don’t want the organisation to go to the wall. In the main, they want it to thrive – hopefully because they have embraced the clear and compelling purpose spelled out by the leader. And all employees recognise that if the organisation thrives, they are more likely to prosper themselves.  

Building the right culture is important, through a sense that we’re all in this together. A big disparity between bosses’ pay and that of employees can make it more difficult to build trust. If the boss is earning millions and the average employee’s salary is £20,000, that’s more likely to create resentment and a sense of “them and us”. Sharing a belief in the culture only goes so far if people can’t afford to put food on the table.  

All research on the subject suggests that up to about £70,000, people become happier the more they earn. If people are earning £70,000, they can afford nice holidays and a good car. They generally have everything they need. Above £70,000, they don’t become exponentially happier. Millionaires don’t tend to be hundreds of times happier than people on the average salary.  

Most of the recent strikes are in the public sector. This may reflect the fact that it can be harder to communicate effectively in large organisations. The less closely connected people are to the leader, the easier it becomes for them to lose sight of the purpose. It’s harder to connect people to the purpose once you get beyond 25 to 30 people. Teams thrive on human connection. More layers of management lead to poor communication.  

Leaders in all organisations are most effective if they realise that they are just a member of the team – one whose job it is to be good at leading. Leaders aren’t special, and they shouldn’t think that they are. Effective leadership requires humility and honesty – not thinking too much about yourself but engaging with people.  

Honesty and trust are vital in teams. Leaders can build trust by showing that they care for their team. This involves things like making sure they have the best possible working conditions, that they get a decent amount of time away from the office. It’s about the team more than the leader.