In my 18 years of corporate life, I experienced a handful of truly amazing managers and leaders. Both young and more seasoned, these men and women – each with their own unique personalities, communication styles and visions – had the ability to bring out the best in me and my work, and in others, and we all wanted to do our best for them.
They had a way of managing that made us feel we were a valuable and integral part of the team. They facilitated the creation of a “safe space” where we were truly excited (and honored) to contribute our best talents and abilities towards important shared outcomes that were clear and meaningful.
Most motivating to me personally was that I understood exactly how my role and initiatives benefited the team and the organization as a whole. I was encouraged to seek out and lead exciting new projects that helped me grow and leveraged the skills and talents I loved to use that came naturally to me – my true strengths. And these leaders didn’t appear to have favorites – they seemed to respect and appreciate everyone alike, and they were universally respected at every level.
These great leaders were also empowering in what they didn’t do. They avoided destructive behaviors that so many inept “leaders” habitually demonstrate.
Now, in coaching executives to build leadership strength and in interviewing top leaders who are making a positive difference in the world, I’ve observed key behaviors that set great leaders apart from those who demoralize and undermine their employees.
Below are six negative behaviors that will thwart your success as a leader, and crush the potential of your employees:
They hover and micromanage
In some ways, great leadership is similar to great parenting – leaders need to get out of the way of their employees and encourage them to be self-reliant, self-confident, resourceful and independent in their work.
If you can’t allow your employees to do what they are paid to do without your constant intervention, then you have a problem you need to solve. The first place to look is within yourself to identify if this pattern is something you exhibit chronically in both your personal life as well as your professional life. Perfectionist overfunctioners tend to hover and micromanage out of an intense fear of failure, judgment or letting others down. And that fear needs to be healed.
They need to be right
Sadly, many people who rise to high levels as leaders aren’t necessarily equipped with emotional strength, self-awareness and self-regulation. Many people at high levels exhibit narcissistic tendencies and find it extremely difficult to be challenged. They need to be right and will fight to the death to vindicate themselves and appear that they are always infallible and “winners.” This need to be right thwarts everyone around you. No one wants to work in a situation where they can’t express themselves openly, and where they feel that it’s a fight to be right or prove yourself at every turn.
Watch yourself – do you find it hard to be challenged? Do you feel yourself getting angry and defensive if someone tells you that they don’t agree? If so, look more deeply at why being “right” is so important to you. (Hint – this trait often emerges comes from a childhood where you didn’t feel heard or validated and that was crushing to you.)
They can’t move away from the “individual contribution” model rather than leading
Many of us have heard of the Peter Principle, a ground-breaking observation (that emerged from the 1969 book The Peter Principle by Dr. Laurence J. Peter) that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies is for employees to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they finally reach a level of incompetence.
Leaders have often been elevated to a leadership role because they were great individual contributors. But that “individual contributor” focus can hinder their leadership success. Now, their functional expertise is less essential for success than their ability to effectively lead and manage others in the “doing” of the work. Yet they haven’t been trained sufficiently to lead, nor have they learned to let go of believing that their individual efforts are what matter most.
If you’ve been promoted to a leadership role, you’ll need to understand that leadership is a different endeavor, and what made you successful in the past isn’t necessarily the same as what you need to succeed in leading and managing others to success.
They aren’t teaching what they know
Several years ago when I was asked to teach a graduate class at New York University on Managing Inclusion and Cultural Diversity, I delved deeply into some seminal works on leadership, and one that had an impact on me was Noel Tichy’s teachings on the need for leaders to share their Teachable Point of View, “a cohesive set of ideas and concepts that a person is able to articulate clearly to others” and “a mission that is inspiring and clearly worth achieving.”
If you haven’t been teaching your employees your teachable point of view and sharing how you make decisions, the ideals and concepts that guide you and what drives your thinking and decisions, then you’re not leading as effectively as you need to.
They aren’t successfully communicating the hard stuff
Leaders can’t always share happy news and positive feedback. Again, just like parents, great leaders need to be honest, transparent and truthful, and offer constructive criticism or bad news that’s hard to hear but essential for success and growth. You can’t lead well if you want to be everyone’s best friend and never upset anyone, or if you can’t face and share the challenging truth in a trustworthy way.
You need to be accurate, clear, take accountability where it’s due, and indicate without waffling the next steps that are needed for success to be achieved. And you need to repeat and reinforce that information if necessary, rather than say it once and run away and hide.
Great leaders share the tough stuff effectively, not in an overly-coddling way but also making sure they’re not leaving body parts in their wake.
Speaking powerfully and telling the hard truth in ways that engender trust and loyalty is not an easy thing, and for most of us it doesn’t come naturally. Training and outside help is often required to build your ability to communicate effectively when sharing difficult news and information.
They aren’t helping others find their best work
Finally, great leadership involves a process of helping employees contribute at their highest levels. It’s other-focused, and your job is to facilitate your employees’ growth, contribution and excellence. To do that, it’s vitally important to help people:
- Identify their top, natural strengths and talents
- Leverage those strengths more fully
- Connect their personal mission with their professional goals
- Understand the key goals of the organization and find meaning and purpose in supporting those goals
- Deal effectively with the specific challenges to their success
The more you can support employees to move forward toward achieving their ultimate visions for their professional lives, the more success they will experience.
If you aren’t focused on helping others thrive at the highest level, your leadership approach will fall short in bringing out the best in others.
Take time this month to understand more fully your employees’ goals and visions for their professional lives. Have a discussion about their natural strengths and talents and what they love to do most in their work. Support them in building a development plan that taps into those talents and visions. Be a clear supporter of their growth and teach them what they need to know so that they can feel more connected to their work and to this organization that helps them thrive.
In the end, assuming a leadership role is a powerful responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. You need to commit to your growth as a leader as much as to the success of your team and organization.
In your leadership, you are impacting not only the jobs and careers of your employees, but also their lives and trajectories in a far deeper and long-lasting way than you ever imagined.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is an international career and personal growth coach, writer, speaker and leadership developer dedicated to the helping professionals build happier, braver lives and careers. The author of “Breakdown, Breakthrough,” and founder of Ellia Communications, Inc., the Amazing Career Project and Amazing Career Certification training for coaches. She is also a leading contributor on Forbes, Thrive Global, and LinkedIn, a TEDx speaker, and top media source on career and personal growth, leadership, and women's issues. For more from Kathy, visit her personal growth programs here, and her TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up.”