The role of the leader is more complex these days. Leaders need to be humble and, at the same time, brave enough to lead the team, dealing effectively with issues like low performance, decreased engagement or motivation, and reduced results. When stress metrics hit the sky and people feel abounded and overwhelmed with so many tasks and responsibilities, every mistake can cause the loss of productive energy and a great team member.
With that in mind, leaders are even more stressed, trying to find solutions to problems they do not even know exist. Like any other person, the leader cannot see every misstep he makes, and often, leaders go through difficult times, finding that something they did not even know about has caused stress and low performance. We people are so interestingly made. Whether we talk positively, neutral, or negatively, we always tend to find a way to point out mistakes. No matter the topic, mistakes are part of the agenda. Not in every situation, but at least in fifty percent of all cases, the talk about mistakes is to point out but not help the other person fix them.
This is what we understand as feedback. And we call it “constructive,” “developing,” or similar to lower the level of stress and negativity. Still, feedback on something with no suggestions or discuss how the thing can change is just an adverse judgment is positive or neutral words. In my almost twenty years of professional development, I have seen many similar cases – the leader or a colleague comes to you, just to share some feedback and leaves you with it to think how you can fix the situation. Although this is a good start, just shooting to make a point is not helpful to anyone, especially if you share with a leader who needs to deal with people, processes, change, etc.
The journey to self-improvement may start with identifying a problem. However, the most valuable part of this journey is finding a way to fix this while still interacting with others positively.
Leaders, like every other person, are not saved from mistakes. Although there are many courses, workshops, and practical tasks to help the leader grow as a personal or professional, leaders are humans who, like everyone other, make mistakes and learn and grow for them.
The speeded-up environment we live and work in causes everyone to make mistakes. This environment can easily provoke inappropriate behaviors even from the leaders who try the most challenging way to be present and support people. These four common mistakes many leaders do not understand they are making. I am sharing the four mistakes I have identified in my interaction with leaders from different companies in the list below. Based on observation of the behavior of more than six hundred leaders, I managed to formulate four mistakes or areas for improvement, valid for all of them. Of course, you can identify many more development areas, but these four are a pattern I have observed in my group of six hundred.
Here they are with short communication on how the leader can deal with each of the four:
Communication – was the most exciting and searched topic on Google in 2019. What many leaders miss with communication is to make it more human. Most of it, especially in large corporate structures, is a robotic way of interaction. Leaders often get “straight to the point, not to lose precious time.” But communication does not work that way. People are social beings. They have feelings, emotions, and good or bad days. Finding the golden middle of communicating properly with people is crucial for the output of the communication. The leader needs to lower it to a human level to make it more human. Getting communication on a human level means including topics like personal life and experience, family, achievements, beliefs, etc. While doing this, the leader opens the door for emotions. And here is the second best thing to do – “Do not take emotions personally.”
Emotions are part of our life. And in most cases, they express a reaction toward a situation or consequences. Taking emotions and actions or words caused by them can ruin the communication effort. Another thing that can create more robust communication is the leader connecting with people in their workplace. Sowing publically that there is no fear to open himself in a public place, with many people around him, is a direct demonstration of humbleness. The leader does not need to wait for official meetings to be humble. Showing that quality in the real world is more powerful and positively impacts everyone and everything.
NOT ENOUGH LISTENING
Obligatory rule – do not try to multitask. I have been in many situations where the other person is trying to balance the conversation with me and something else. If the leader uses this approach, he is disinterested in the other person. People see multitasking as a way to demote their presence. And in many cases, their reaction is adverse. What the leader can do about this is to stop multitasking. And that means first planning in advance. If something needs to be completed, the leader should allocate time, close the door, and work toward it. But when there is someone in the room sharing something, the leader must stop and dedicate all his attention to the person. And as a final thought on this, the leader must not listen to solve, but the intention to first understand what the person says. There is no need to be a problem solver for everything. People do not need solutions for what they bring to the table but support working on what they got to the leader. Listening with the intent to understand is essential for keeping internal motivation and engagement high.
FAILING TO BUILD TRUST
Trust is what makes or breaks results. A person who does not trust the leader will never put the effort to complete a task or reach a goal. What many leaders miss is how to build trust. Trust is often mistaken for likeliness. Whether a leader or a follower acts, to be seen as an integrity-driven person, that person needs to build trust toward others. Unfortunately, some thirty-four percent of leaders do not see trust as a building block to engage people and grow results with them. These leaders react primarily based on the ground of authority and cannot build remaining time and develop results relationships with the people inside their teams. To build trust means to be accepted as a natural person, but not as someone who is there to give orders only. Many leaders do not understand that the biggest mistake they can make to lose trust is one that they see as positive – communication. While communication has positive and negative poles, the negative pole is often represented by miscommunication, lack of communication, or demanding communication.
To build a higher level of trust, the leader must focus on finding ways to be close to the team and understand people as people, but not as numbers in a report. Dealing with personal issues and showing support in tuff situations is the least that a leader can do. The informal environment is crucial to building and sustaining trust in time actively. Knowing others as people needs to move through everyday events. Even the coffee and the casual chat at the building entrance can support the process of building trust.
And the essential element of building trust – is delivering on multiple deadlines.
And this one sounds more accessible than it can be executed. But trust is built on reciprocity. A leader’s job is to ensure that what he has promised is delivered within the deadlines agreed. Delivering on deadlines makes trust and positions the leader as a valuable person to the team and creates a higher internal engagement and connection level.
REACTIVE PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT
There was an old paradigm created in the sixties of the twentieth century that people needed to hear about their performance once a year to plan their development better. Maybe this one has been beneficial in a slow-paced world, but things have changed. Getting once a year through examples and evaluation forms is not enough anymore. The leader’s job now is to evaluate people’s behavior and results daily through constant feedback and coaching to help them get better. The environment points out that people insist that that happen, and the leader has no right to delay it. But what is different now is that while bad behavior has been used as a prerequisite to building a development plan, nowadays, leaders need to focus on good and bad performance. The leader must not allow people to fall. Delivering on-time feedback on performance, no matter how it is seen – good or bad – is necessary to build a better team and reach goals.
Managing performance must be moved from the reactive pole to proactive planning, where people are the main factor in the frequency of the leader’s actions.
As proactive the performance management is, the better and more positive the results and outcomes from the actions are.
Letting people fall is not accepted but is now seen as a prerequisite for a toxic culture and a wrong place to work.
Investing time in changing that perception through the proactive support of others to grow is crucial for the leader to maintain high results constantly.
In the fast-paced world, we live in, the team’s demand for doing more every day is higher than before. Focusing on finding what motivates and engages people and boosts it is how leaders can save the teams they work with and ensure loyalty and fixation toward goals from people inside the unit. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, but being seen on time and corrected fast is necessary for delivering better results and sustaining a positive cultural environment.