Since 2000, according to numerous national surveys, less than one-third of workers in the United States are engaged in their work as measured by their involvement, enthusiasm and commitment. If you simply reflect on your most recent encounter as a consumer at your local retail store, restaurant or government agency, your own experience will more than likely validate the reality of these startling statistics.
Leaders account for as much as 70 percent of the variance of employee engagement. A Gallup study of 7,272 adults in the United States revealed that one in two had left their job at some point in their career to get away from a manager in order to improve overall quality of life. People don’t leave jobs; people leave people.
Effective leadership requires not only doing the right things, but also understanding what not to do. Here are five mistakes to aggressively avoid.
Critical Mistake #1: Failing to schedule time for learning conversations
You do what you schedule. When you listen, you learn. Leaders should only be doing what no one else can do and no one can listen to your team members like you.
Schedule regular opportunities to ask clear, concise and clarifying questions to your team members and then discipline yourself to actively listen. This will provide you with vital intelligence to implement two of the main functions of a leader:
- Remove obstacles
- Provide resources
How can you know the true obstacles that are impeding success and the actual resources needed by your team if you aren’t consistently scheduling highly interactive learning conversations?
Critical Mistake #2: Failing to consistently affirm
As a leader, are you encouraging, or are you an encourager, or neither?
One of the most powerful, if not the most powerful tool to embolden, motivate and energize your team is the incredible power of affirmation. Affirming is simply catching people doing things right and TELLING them about it. Don’t just think it; express it.
The effective leader is always on the lookout for opportunities to answer the soul-felt questions in the mind of their team members: “Do I matter?” and “Does what I do around here matter?” Answer those questions by being specific about your team member’s positive actions. Always tie the positive action you observed to the beneficial business outcome.
Being encouraging is something that you do, but being an encourager is something you are. If you are an encourager, then affirmations will emanate from your lips regularly.
Critical Mistake #3: Misdiagnosing
When you visit the doctor, the doctor always asks a succession of questions, and many times follows up with a battery of tests before ever prescribing any action design to remedy an illness. Why? For the safety of the patient and for the critical business benefit of avoiding a malpractice lawsuit. The exception to this would be in an emergency situation in which time is of the essence.
If you are always making decisions in business as if you live in the emergency room, then the health of your organization is going to be in a constant state of trauma. A proper diagnosis of the “ailments” of your business is required to make the decisions necessary to have a healthy and prosperous business. This necessitates gathering appropriate and accurate information, much of which can be ascertained by avoiding Mistake #1, before randomly moving ahead with activity, which might or might not produce the desired results.
Many executives seek to bring in outside help to “treat” a problem that has been improperly, inadequately, or incorrectly diagnosed. Before assistance is formally acquired, they should answer the question: “What do you want to accomplish?” With this simple question clarified, a decision can be made on what is the fastest and the most effective way to achieve the desired outcome.
Critical Mistake #4: Wearing the wrong hat
Vision caster. Trainer. Monitor. Cheerleader. Fixer. Disciplinarian. Which hat do you wear?
All of them and more.
This dilemma is further augmented by the maturity, or immaturity as the case may be, of your team. The challenge is not only in knowing what hat to wear, but it’s also critical to wear the right hat at the right time.
If your team is newly formed, it’s important to be participatory in your leadership style regardless of the hat you are wearing. As your team develops and establishes appropriate parameters, your style shifts to a hands-on leader. You then can transition to a benevolent dictator as you ensure the appropriate focused action of your team. When your team matures and is highly functioning, your style shifts to free rein leadership as you equip the team to be self-sustaining.
Your style shifts. Your hats change. Your leadership flexibility is regularly challenged.
Change hats as often as the fluidity of circumstances dictates and be cognizant of the leadership style required based upon the developmental maturity of your team.
Critical Mistake #5: Not taking responsibility
There are things you cannot control. Stop wasting time and precious emotional energy on these things.
There are things you can influence. Stop being passive on the things you can influence.
There are things you can control. Stop making excuses for the things you can control. Get busy and act.
Take responsibility for your own actions, attitudes and words. Leverage your influence as a leader. Lead by example.
Avoid these five common critical mistakes and leverage your powerful positive influence as a leader. As you do, instead of people withdrawing, disengaging or leaving, they will passionately follow you. You are the most important element of the success of your team.
Remember: your people want you to lead.
David Waits, founder of Waits Consulting Group Inc., has worked with clients in all 50 states, including General Dynamics, Major League Baseball and Walt Disney World, to help them create a thriving organizational environment.