As leaders, we like to believe we know our team really well. But do we? Even the best leaders may have blind spots worth exploring. Ever wonder what your team is longing to tell you? Here are six truths your team wishes you knew:
Many leaders spend their days in meetings. And then they spend their evenings catching up on email. They want to provide their team with the support they were not able to offer during their over-scheduled day. They may say, “I don’t expect responses from you on evenings/weekends.” But the truth is, our team will follow what we do much more than what we say. If we send emails off-hours, our teams are hearing they need to be responsive off-hours. A better approach is to draft your emails whenever you like, but delay sending until business hours. Many email programs allow you to schedule this delivery delay. This gives your team a much-needed chance to rest and recover so they can come back super productive the next day. As leaders, we all have a duty of care to set digital boundaries.
Micro-managers beware: the more you nit-pick, the less initiative your team takes. Bosses can be incredible time wasters. The next time you are prompted to make an edit, ask yourself whether the change is worth the trade-off of having a less committed team member. This may sound harsh, but how can they truly own the work if you keep changing it to make it yours? And how can your team be expected to take initiative when you set the expectation for perfection? The best leaders let people own the work and accept that work can reflect someone else’s style and still lead to success.
“Make the decision you think is the right decision to make. Start something that needs to be started. Change something that needs to be changed.” – Simon Sinek
You might think you have set up a culture that invites everyone to suggest improvements. But the reality is most people don’t believe they have this latitude. They believe they need to support the way things have always been done and, as a result, don’t bring an entrepreneurial approach to their work. And many workplace cultures squash innovation. As a result, amazing ideas that would improve the workplace go left unsaid. When pushed to explain why they didn’t speak up, people often say, “I didn’t think it was my place to suggest a better option.” As a leader, are you doing enough to encourage ideas and innovation across your team? Most cultural rules tell us what we can’t do. On that note, Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why recommends reinforcing what your team can do. “Rules that tell us what not to do hold people back. Instead, the rules should help push people forward. In our (organization), the rules consist of a list of the things that are allowed.” Here are some of the rules on the team’s Allowed List: Make the decision you think is the right decision to make. Start something that needs to be started. Change something that needs to be changed.”
I confess: I am one of those leaders who keeps coming up with new ideas. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve enthusiastically said to my team, “Wouldn’t it be great if we did this?”. But often the response was fairly muted. I couldn’t understand why my colleagues weren’t as excited about the ideas, until it dawned on me their reaction was related to implementation. They were thinking, “How can we do this with everything else on our plate?” The truth is, the more we change priorities for our team, the more chaos we create. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Setting – and sticking to – clear priorities is one of our most important leadership tasks. If you are not clear on your priorities, you are creating chaos for your team.
Many leaders are highly driven and committed to supporting their team. As a result, they end up working all evening. And all weekend. And from the beach on their family vacation. This teaches their team this is the expectation (whether the leader intends this to be the case or not). But the best leaders recognize the productive value in taking breaks. HubSpot goes so far as to offer long-time employees a chance to take a one-month sabbatical, without the expectation to stay involved in projects and connected to email. And to demonstrate how much they mean it, the CEO took the first sabbatical. He travelled the world and was largely disconnected.
When our colleagues come to us with a concern, they may gently test the waters before going into the details. If we are receptive, they tell us more. But when we hear things we don’t like, we often shut them down before getting the full picture. For example, a leader might say, “I don’t support in-fighting among the team. This needs to stop now.” The intent behind this is good, but the underlying issue still needs support. If we shut down our team, they’ll stop talking to us about the concern. Yet the concern hasn’t gone away. Even worse, it’s taken underground. Our colleague may talk to their peers and even share their frustrations on social media. And they will likely be more emotional, having felt misunderstood and undervalued by their leader. A better approach is to support your colleagues to address challenges in a respectful and professional way.
As leaders, it’s important to be cautious of falling into these traps even if they seem to display positive leadership qualities (i.e. working hard, seeking perfection, quelling disruption). Ultimately, the more self-aware we are as leaders, the more we can enhance the performance of our teams and ensure we are collaborating efficiently and effectively.
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