Author: Alistair Cox, CEO, Hays
When was the last time you saw a boss demanding to review even the most basic of emails or memos before sending, barking orders or timing people’s lunch breaks down to the last minute? This was an all-too-common scene when I first started out in my career. Hopefully we have moved on somewhat since then.
But, if we’re honest, we probably all slip back into these out-dated behaviours from time to time, especially when we’re under a lot of pressure. We all have our bad days and none of us are perfect, no leader is. What’s important is that we are able to recognise when we might be falling short in how we’re treating our people day-to-day because, while we may not notice how we are, our colleagues certainly will.
So, take some time out to honestly consider whether or not you’re guilty of any of the below behaviours. They might sound basic, and to a certain extent, obvious, but I believe as leaders and managers we must recognise our own flaws and keep them in check if we’re to demand the same from our staff.
1. Do you find yourself barking out orders more than you should?
We’ve all been there – there’s a big project going on, you’re leading it and you’re the one who will ultimately be accountable if it fails. That’s a lot of pressure – and it’s understandable that in order to make any kind of progress, you will have to give orders – and lots of them.
In doing so, you may feel that you are empowering your staff (depending on the task, and your delivery of the order, you may well be). But there is a balance to be struck between empowering your people and simple delegation. Too many leaders confuse the two, and confuse the two too often.
Nobody wants to spend a career carrying out basic, boring instructions, so try to keep this kind of behaviour in check. Wherever possible, bring staff into your thought process and have open discussions about tasks at hand, why they need doing, how they form a part of a bigger jigsaw and how to achieve them. And, importantly strike the right balance between giving them room to tackle tasks their own way and providing guidance on how goals can be achieved.
2. Are you too quick to punish mistakes?
We’ve all seen (and probably have been) that boss that sometimes reads the riot act without really giving the employee the opportunity to explain themselves. Most of the time, we probably don’t even realise we’re doing it.
We’re all human, and frustration can get the better of us at times (especially when there’s a lot going on and a lot at stake). Equally, your staff are human too and they are going to make mistakes. So, instead of flying off the handle, give them the opportunity to explain themselves and make a real effort to identify the root cause. Understand whether gaps in knowledge, skill or attitude are behind a difficult issue.
And, even when staff behaviour is at fault, don’t be too quick to opt for harsh punishment. Infractions can be an opportunity to ensure these mistakes don’t happen again.
This is not to say that you should tolerate an employee’s every error – this will understandably exasperate the rest of your team (who will need to work harder to compensate). Repeated flaws may well require more drastic action, and some errors can be so serious that there’s only one outcome. But a balance must be struck, and problems nipped in the bud early – so as I said, it’s best to treat errors as a teaching opportunity when they arise.
3. Do you limit feedback and coaching to annual performance reviews?
In today’s ratings culture, we all find ourselves constantly reviewing – whether it be hotels, apps or restaurants. Most of this is usually fairly fleeting, although perhaps we give it slightly more thought if we want to point out a particularly irritating flaw or disappointing customer service. And, once we’ve hit submit, we just get on with our day, without giving the repercussions a second thought.
Of course, as leaders and managers, we put much more thought and effort into reviewing our staff. But, ask yourself, when you’re busy and have lots of other priorities being placed on you - do you really provide feedback with the care and attention your staff deserve? Or do you see the review process as an inconvenience, something that can be put off until next week, and once it’s over with, something that can be put to the back of your mind until next year?
If so, it might be time for you to rethink your approach and start to more fully appreciate the value in doing this properly. Reviews shouldn’t be treated simply as an opportunity to nit-pick mistakes or weaknesses, nor a box-ticking exercise. Rather, they’re a chance for you to take stock of and discuss an employee’s performance, say well done and provide clear guidance and support on how you can work together to tackle the areas which need improvement.
In the early days of my career, the best reviews I had were ones that felt more like coaching sessions than limited discussions focusing only on my weaknesses. It’s been my experience that staff respond best when they have a continuous dialogue with their manager, and when that manager offers advice and development opportunities day-to-day, not year-to-year.
4. Do you neglect to take an active interest in the lives of your staff?
Do you feel as though you only have a surface-level relationship with your team members? You may be available when a task needs to be discussed or approval given, but have you ever actually discussed any topic that doesn’t solely relate to work?
While there obviously must be a balance and professional relationships should always be maintained, it’s not healthy for a boss to entirely ignore the personal lives of their staff - as if you do, you’re ignoring half of their very being.
Communication is key to engaging staff. By discussing a range of topics (whether work related or not), your communication channels are automatically broadened and you will both feel more comfortable. Over time, you’ll find that dialogue that might have once felt stilted now flows better and that both sides empathise with each other that little bit more.
So, spend time getting to know your people and make an effort to understand who they are, not just at work but away from the office. You manage a team of individuals, so understand what their passions are and where they want to go in life.
This doesn’t mean encroaching on their personal lives, but rather showing that you see them as human beings and have a genuine interest in them. In return, you’ll have a stronger channel to discuss work issues – after all it’s incredibly difficult to warm to someone who only speaks at you about the job.
Even small gestures can help you connect better with your staff - ask them how they spent their weekend or what holiday plans they’ve made. This is a simple, and some may say, obvious point, but one that many leaders overlook in my experience. But please, make it authentic, not forced.
As busy leaders, we sometimes forget that it’s often the simple things that have the biggest impact on our teams and how they feel about coming to work every morning. People work for people, not faceless organisations after all. And, by admitting that you do any of the things I’ve talked about in this blog, you’re not so much admitting to weakness, but you’re actually demonstrating that you are a self-aware and empathetic leader, someone who is open to self-improvement for the good of their staff, the wider business and yourself too.
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