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Want to Be a Great Leader? Avoid These Five Mistakes

by Kathy Kurnyta on

Do you feel frustrated in your efforts to make a difference? Are you concerned you don’t have the right team in place? Are you tired of inheriting poor performers?

If you answered yes to any of these, ask yourself: what’s in your way?

Working in the field of leadership development, we find that all too often people complain about working for a bad boss. In fact, more individuals have had a “bad boss” experience in their careers than a “good boss” experience. Moreover, despite the billions of dollars spent in the leadership development industry (through interviews, training programs, modules, coaching, etc.), this trend doesn’t seem to be reversing. Unfortunately, it’s rare for us to hear individuals boast about working for a great leader.

Additionally, employee engagement rates have hardly budged since 2000, according to a Gallup research study. Only about 33% of employees in the US reported to feeling engaged in 2016 – only a modest 3% increase from 2012. This is not surprising, given our clients’ consistent concerns with keeping employees invested in an increasingly complex environment.

So, what’s to blame?

Perhaps the landscape in which we live is increasing in complexity, scope, and change – so much so that it’s difficult to keep up and focus on maintaining employee engagement and enthusiasm.

On the other hand, perhaps as leaders, we are applying the wrong tactics to our teams and followers.

While there is no simple solution to improve employee engagement or enhance the employee/boss relationship, one place to start is by looking at common pitfalls or mistakes you may make as a manager.

Here are five things NOT to do as a leader:

Giving a Select Few the Biggest Investment

Given that most organizations tend to operate on a lean basis, it is typical for leaders to manage a large team of direct reports, often making it difficult to devote sufficient time to each person. We have found that many of the leaders we interview spend too much time on their top performers and focus their effort on developing those select few. As a result, they devote very little time to the remaining team. On the opposite side, there are those leaders who focus primarily on their under-performers, while minimizing the investment in their top and middle performers. Although you don’t want to practice a “one-size-fits-all” mentality, it is important to consider how to best engage and motivate EVERY person on your team; otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before they start looking elsewhere to feel valued.

Getting Too Comfortable with “Good Enough”

Ask yourself: how well is your team performing? Is everyone on the team executing to high standards, or is their performance simply satisfactory? Often leaders can get comfortable with “good enough,” as long as the team is meeting expectations and not ruffling any feathers. While some individuals may feel happy being “left alone” to do their work, our research shows that employees actually appreciate a boss who stretches their capabilities beyond what they thought possible. It shows them that their boss believes in their skills and sees the potential in them to take on greater responsibility.

Failing to Show Emotion

Effective leaders care about their employees – their career goals, aspirations, development, and personal needs. Going through the motions of these behaviors, without displaying genuine care, does not produce the same result. Rather, most people tend to feel devalued working for a boss who comes across as disingenuous.

Not Providing Room for Mistakes

As a leader, there is so much experience and knowledge you can share with your employees. There may also be a tendency to provide an answer immediately in order to meet a tight deadline or deliverable. Unfortunately, this style will not only hinder your team from taking on challenges, but also take away from their ability to learn on their own. Take a step back and consider what learnings a direct report can gain from a particular situation, even if it might lead to him or her making a mistake.

Not Giving Immediate Feedback 

You give your employees freedom and autonomy to do their work, and they should feel engaged as a result, right? Wrong. Although your employees will value your display of trust, this approach needs to be balanced with consistent feedback on their performance. In particular, employees appreciate transparency in their boss and clarity on what they are doing right or wrong, on a regular basis. If you wait to surprise employees with feedback during the end-of-the-year performance reviews, it may come too late for the employee to implement, and can lead to him or her feeling admonished, rather than constructively advised.

Surveys show that a key to retaining top talent – and creating a great company culture – is cultivating best bosses. As such, it is important to consider common derailers or mistakes you can avoid as a leader to improve not only the engagement of your team, but also your ability to get the best out of each of your direct reports. As you reflect on your own leadership style, ask yourself: What can you do differently with your team? What are typical pitfalls you should avoid? How can you be a role model for others? What can you do to be a better boss?

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