What NOT to do if you are a leader!

Lead. Support.Enable.
  1. Not believing in your team

This is a cardinal sin. If you are leading a team and you do not believe in the abilities of your team members, its a recipe for failure. If you think the performance of some of the employees is not up to the mark, train and coach them. If you have recently moved to a leadership role with a legacy team, and you feel they are not competent, do yourself and the team a favor, and let them go. Most of the times it is a perception issue and not really a capability issue, but whatever it is, it needs to be sorted out for the benefit of everyone involved. I know about an organization where a particular team went through a major rejig; the incumbent leader moved out, and a new leader took over the reigns. There was considerable employee churn during and after the period. And the ones who stayed back were not happy because the new leader simply did not trust them enough and did not believe in the their abilities.

What is needed to be done during leadership transitions?

Assess the skill sets and competencies of the team you are taking over. Based on your assessment, either retain or let them go. Align the ones you have retained, to teams/roles based on their capabilities and skills. And once you have done that, trust them and give them complete ownership of their work.

2. Lacking emotional intelligence

It helps if the leader understands the emotional state of team members and reciprocates or drives his/her behavior accordingly. It also helps if the leader is compassionate and empathetic towards his employees. I have heard this anecdote from a friend, about the time he was in the hospital with his wife when they were expecting their child. The wife was in labor, when this friend got a barrage of calls from his manager. This was after the friend had informed well in advance of the impending situation, and had already taken time off work. The friend had no other way but to take this call, and listen to the manager asking animatedly him about something (of course trivial. nothing earth shattering!) related to work. The manager also had the audacity to ask the friend if he had access to his laptop to check something up. The friend though visibly shaken and frustrated maintained his cool at that moment. It is in situations like this, where a leaders’ empathy and emotional intelligence comes into picture.

3. Treating employees with disdain

Leaders should know how to treat their employees. They should be professional in the way they speak, and should understand professional and personal boundaries. I have seen leaders not valuing other’s personal time and calling people at ungodly hours. There can be times when the situation demands it and can’t be avoided. However, some leaders deliberately take employees’ personal time and space for granted, and do not think twice before bothering them after office hours. Leaders should know that words spoken once can’t be taken back, so they should be careful of what they speak and how they speak. Giving negative feedback or reprimanding in front of others does not do employees any good, rather it hampers morale and motivation. Remember to praise your employees in public and provide feedback in private. These off-putting behaviors show lack of professionalism on the part of leaders.

4. Not communicating enough

Lack of communication within the team can kill your team’s morale. Leaders need to be pro-active in communicating top-down. They should be frequently communicating the vision and the purpose of the work they are doing. Leaders should frequently speak one-on-one with all their team members to understand their needs and allay fears and concerns. This signals to the team that their leader cares about them and also provides adequate clarity and sets expectations for future.

5. Lack of humility

Leaders should make their team members feel at home. They should be approachable and ensure they are not carrying a chip on their shoulders. Leaders who are not humble, are generally perceived as unapproachable, which in turn can lead to a communication black hole and misaligned teams.

6. Not providing feedback

Leaders should be forthcoming and provide feedback to everyone on their team. Leaders should practice “Radical Candor”, which means challenge directly and care personally. Read more about this here. Leaders should provide honest feedback, be it positive or negative. Leaders who care about their staff personally, are not afraid to be candid while giving feedback, because they have that innate understanding with their employees.

7. Not leading by example

Leaders need to lead by example on all fronts. They need to practice what they preach. I have seen leaders, who would ask their teams to be more assertive with stakeholders, while at the same time they would lack the spine to stand up for their teams when the situation demanded.

8. Lack of Subject matter knowledge

Good leaders are excellent people managers, and at the same time have a strong grasp on functional knowledge. Leaders who lack expertise in the areas/functions they are leading, are not respected by team members.

A growth mindset helps leaders navigate through untested waters. Read here about “growth vs fixed mindset”. Leaders should be accepting of their weaknesses and should be willing to learn.

9. Not listening to your team

Some leaders would never listen to you. They would come, speak their mind and end the discussion there without any scope for two-way communication. They would simply ignore what you say, if you attempt to say anything. What then happens is team members would stop questioning the status quo and stop having meaningful dialogues. And when a team stops questioning, that is the end of creativity, learning and innovation in that team.

Leaders miss out on critical information if they do not listen to their employees. They miss out on the pulse of their organization. I have seen a leader, during a time when a lot of people were leaving his team. It was quite obvious that the employees were leaving the leader and rejecting his style of leadership. The interesting bit was that the leader was not able to comprehend this. He was befuddled and was seen asking someone as to why so many employees were leaving the team. This goes to show the shortsightedness of the leader.

10. Not thinking long term and always fire fighting

Good leaders have a vision for their team. The vision helps in planning for the long term and aligning efforts to results envisaged. However, leaders who are fearful, myopic and lack leadership skills, can never paint on a larger canvas. Even if they do plan long-term, they lack the confidence to execute it. They would rather be seen fire-fighting, more often than not, rushing to deliver a work product only when a demand from the top comes. In the absence of a clear strategy or plan, much or all of the work is last minute fixes and piece meal. This is not taken positively by employees who look for work that is meaningful, strategically planned in advance and delivered accordingly. Subsequently, employees leave because they are either not learning enough on the job, or simply because they are not doing anything substantial on their jobs.

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