I frequently coach leaders who know that something is awry, but they don’t know what. They see the symptoms — lack of buy-in, frustration, lip service — but they can’t identify the root of the problem. It’s like finding water pooling on the floor and not knowing what’s leaking.
More often than not, the issues stem from ineffective leadership behaviors. Yet leaders often aren’t objective enough to see their own behaviors clearly. To address the problems, leaders need to see themselves with a fresh set of eyes — impartial and unbiased. Only then can they find and fix what isn’t working.
There are three common, unhelpful leadership behaviors: minimal engagement, ill tempers and lack of decision-making.
Minimal engagement. Many leaders consistently struggle with creating engagement in meetings. There are a few telltale signs that people aren’t plugged in: always the same (few) people do the talking while others feign agreement, and meetings are formulaic — everyone knows what to expect and nothing ever really changes.
If this sounds familiar, the blueprint needs to change. In fact, there shouldn’t be one blueprint. Vary meeting formats or ask staff to each adopt one new behavior that will lead to more effective meetings.
Short tempers. The most effective leadership happens through trust, not fear. Mercurial leaders create environments where people feel unsafe to offer critical opinions or to take risks for fear of an outburst. If you’re tempted to be sharp-tongued, practice walking away until you can calm down.
Lack of decision-making. Do you avoid giving due dates for decisions, avoid deciding who will make the decision or even how the decision will be made? Do you get bogged down in the details of execution rather than the decision itself? Is there a lack of accountability when decisions are made?
There are various reasons for pushing off decision-making, but they generally boil down to fear. Over time, the inability to make critical decisions creates what I call “whirl” — a vortex where staff gets frustrated and cynical by lack of forward movement.
To address this, leaders must push past fear and set clear, measurable targets for decision-making.
What leads to a cure
If you recognize yourself in any of these, you’re off to a good start. Awareness is half the battle. Rather than fall back on behaviors that are comfortable, force yourself to try something new and different. You can try the suggestions above, or experiment with your own.
If you don’t think these apply to you, what do you have to lose if you practice seeing yourself in a new way? Watch yourself objectively for a few days or a week with a particular eye to these behaviors. If you still aren’t convinced, ask a trusted colleague for an opinion. You may be surprised to learn that others see things differently than you do.
The choice is yours. How will you choose to look at yourself today?