Originally published in the Globe and Mail Leadership Lab Column
Don is the CEO of a family run business. His entrepreneurial roots span three generations and he is fiercely proud of his lineage . When “the good times” recently came to a grinding halt and the business headed into a rapid decline, a foreboding cloud of doom overtook a once, happy thriving workplace. With seventy employees on his payroll and a shrinking customer base, Don’s anxiety skyrocketed with each passing day. No one was immune from Don’s tongue-lashing as he grappled to manage his emotions and prevent his business from collapsing.
Don’s struggle is not unique. Sadly, too many leaders lack the essential skills to communicate, connect and take responsibility for their shortcomings, regardless of business conditions. They fail to understand that the manner in which they deliver company news or providing employees with direction and feedback…whether good, bad or ugly, IS within their control.
Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking research on the subject of “emotional intelligence” confirmed the significance of the emotional quotient (E.Q) in business. When interviewed by Ivy Business Journal about his book Primal Leadership (Harvard Business Review Press, 2002 – Goleman Boyatzis, McKee, ) Goleman described “a leader’s primal task is an emotional one—to articulate a message that resonates with their followers’ emotional reality, with their sense of purpose—and so to move people in a positive direction.”
The following deadly mistakes could be avoided if more leaders learned to lead rather than operate in a frenzied manner:
Deadly Mistake # 1
Taking your bad mood out on others
Stressful situations often bring out the worst in leaders who are either feeling squeezed due to economic uncertainty, or the cumulative, demanding pressures of work and life. The most effective leaders recognize that the “boss” title, doesn’t legitimize your mood swings, nor does it give you permission to take your frustrations out on your team. It’s one thing to reveal your humanness; it’s another to let your emotions run wild no matter how much economic uncertainty prevails.
Deadly Mistake # 2
Constantly switching priorities
Leaders are responsible for setting the agenda, articulating the vision and allocating the work. They expect teams to manage projects within an anticipated timeframe and meet customer demands; constraits that are understood as a “given”. However, all too often leaders change direction on a whim, causing havoc for employees and clients alike. By incessently shifiting the focus, confusion reigns as teams are forever chasing goals that have become moving targets, rather than clearly communicated objectives.
Deadly Mistake #3
Criticizing, rather than critiquing performance
Evidence regarding unsatisfactory performance may be a genuine cause for concern. However, the opportunity to correct the issue diminishes when leaders are incapable of engaging in a conversation that gets to the heart of the problem. Their line of questioning can exacerbate the situation: e.g. “Why did you do it this way?” instead of “tell me more about your process”. Defaulting to “why” implies judgment.
Deadly Mistake # 4
It’s my way…or the highway
Many leaders use at take or it leave it philosophy with their employees, leaving no room for compromise. This makes people feel powerless and unappreciated, stifling opportunities or a desire to offer innovative ideas and alternative suggestions to improve exisiting processes. A lack of flexibility on the leader’s part can destroy team morale and motivation. In addition, an intransigent approach can adversly impact productivity as team through the motions implementing a directive that they don’t agree with.
Deadly Mistake #5
Focusing on negatives before the positives
Too many leaders look for examples of what a team member is doing wrong, instead of what they are doing right. It is no surprise that many organizations continue to experience low morale and declining levels of engagement when leaders rarely offer appreciation or praise. When this occurs, especially during a performance review, the employee will shut down and tune out. Phrases that begin with “you should” “you need to” “you always” “you have to” often illicit a defensive response. Giving feedback is not the same as giving orders. An employee is less likely to develop and thrive under a leader who is constantly telling them what to do, or how to improve.
Deadly Mistake #6
Viewing employees through a myopic lens
Many leaders lack objectivity. This will invariably show up in their communication. A good leader will appreciate having team members with personalities/work-styles that are different (but complimentary) to them. A poor leader can’t see past the differences and see them as an “irritant”, rather than looking at performance, contribution etc. When a leader’s biases impact the lens in which they view their workforce, they run the risk of alienating themselves from the entire leadership infrastructure and may damage the reputation of the very organization they have toiled to build. By focusing on the personalities, genders and cultural background of an employee through vague, subjective language that pushes buttons (E.g. “I want to talk to you about your attitude”) the mark on a leader’s character may be forever tarnished.
Deadly Mistake # 7
Taking all the credit
Good leaders know how to share credit and praise their employees. They are able to lead by example, set their egos aside for the good of the company and their employees. Give credit to them when it is due. Acknowledging the accomplishments of you employees will make them feel like a valued member of your team. And when your team members shine, you as the leader can bask in the afterglow without the need to take accolades that were not yours in the first place.
Teams crave caring communication from their leaders, through any economy. When they don’t receive it, and/or when it is framed incorrectly, it can often be the catalyst that sparks dissatisfaction and heightens the desire to leave their jobs. It is incumbent on leaders to be mindful about the impact of their words, their influence and delivery, on the career path of an employee.
Photo by David Castillo Dominici