What if you’re unintentionally hurting the people you lead?
Here are some ways that may be harmful, even if they seem helpful:
1. Not giving employees a chance to show what they’re capable of. Allow people to show you why they were hired and how much they can do. One of your most important abilities as a leader is to let people shine.
2. Telling people what to do instead of letting them show you what they can do. Telling people what to do isn’t leadership, it’s direction. Leadership means creating a space for others to accomplish their best.
3. Constantly speaking and not allowing others to express their opinion. Listening only to your own voice harms your credibility and disempowers your leadership. Power doesn’t come to those who speak the most but to those who listen best.
4. Providing solutions to problems other people should be solving. You should not be the fixer of all problems.. Allow your people to develop solutions—their abilities will grow and they’ll come up with things you might not have thought of.
5. Complicating simple business processes. Keep things as simple and uncomplicated as possible. People have enough to do without the bother of unnecessary bureaucracy and complicated processes.
6. Saying things like “I know best.” Even if you know you’re right, it’s far more effective to guide people into the answer through dialogue and communication. People want to know they’re contributing, not just following orders.
7. Giving rewards where there hasn’t been effort. In many companies where I coach, it’s common practice to give bonuses regardless of the effort people put in. This approach only creates a culture of mediocrity.
8. Playing favorites with your team. For any leader, fairness builds trust and trust is everything. Treat everyone with the same respect and be equitable in providing opportunities.
9. Saying you’re going to do something but you don’t. Any time you don’t keep your word, your leadership loses respect and credibility.
10. Shaming, criticizing or blaming others publicly in meetings. As the saying goes, appreciate in public and criticize in private.
Lead from within: Most leaders have good intentions, but those intentions sometimes lead to bad results. Try to keep your eye on the consequences of everything you do as a leader and ask yourself whether it’s helping or hurting.
With the intensity of working online, it is particularly important to find ways of consciously managing your attention. Here are some things to try (whether on Zoom or in person) so that you stay energized as well as engage your co-workers.
1. Before a meeting
Take a few moments to become present. Find a quiet space where you can close your eyes and notice what you’re feeling. Put away your phone (unless you need it to be logged onto a meeting or for a call.) Keep it out of sight so that you’re less likely to swivel your attention in its direction. The people you’re with will feel more valued if they’re not competing for your attention.2. During a meeting
Notice yourself breathing in and out. Maintain eye contact when another person is speaking. If you’re not able to give other people your full attention, say so. It is better to say, “I know you need to talk with me and I’m interested, but I want to give you my undivided attention” than to be in a semi-distracted state. Take care of what you need to and then return to
3. After a meetingCarve out whatever space you can between meetings rather than rushing from one to the next. Even a short break of a few minutes helps to clear your mind and reduce “attention residue” (continuing to think about one issue when you need to pivot to the next). If it’s possible to stand outside or open a window, even for a few seconds, the fresh air will help to keep your attention focused in the here-and-now.
At the end of a meeting, jot down any actions or decisions that were taken so that these don’t remain as ‘open loops’ in your mind. Close your ‘loops’ from one meeting before you head to or log into the next.
Our presence is what creates the most impact when someone walks into the room, whether in person or on Zoom. Great leaders have it and you can too. Presence is available to us each moment. Cultivating presence will greatly enhance the quality of your leadership and life.
Source: Allan Watkinson, Rohit Kar and Jennifer Robinson via Gallup
To perform their best, leaders must nurture their minds and bodies.
Twenty years ago, the sudden
emergence of ESPN’s daily poker broadcasting sparked global debate. How does
card playing merit coverage, given the absence of spherical objects and sweaty
high-fives? The emerging consensus that cards, chess, and spelling all qualify
made sense to me only when I returned to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster
defines an athlete as “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises… requiring
physical strength, agility, or stamina.” Like chess, leading change requires
stamina and takes a toll physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Leadership’s daily demands create a
high-stress work environment. In a December survey, 76% of workers
reported burnout. These challenges are especially
prominent among leaders, and even pre-date the pandemic: school principals, for
example, are nearly twice as likely
to experience stress symptoms
than the general population. Managing change daily on tight timelines requires
nonstop communication, often with overstretched team members and stakeholders.
The work requires the pace of a sprint for the duration of a marathon.
For both athletes and leaders,
sustaining performance throughout an intense season requires careful planning
and consistent execution. For their part, leaders need good mental acuity and
energy to support decision-making. Leaders benefit from a comprehensive plan
that parallels the holistic benefits of an athlete’s support system.
These 8 strategies create the
foundation for optimal leadership performance:
1. Be clear on your priorities.
Fulfilling a leadership role
requires clear vision not only for the organization but also for yourself. What
is most important in your life? What do you want to drive toward, and why? How
do these priorities compare with your role’s goals? Alignment between what your
personal mission and your daily professional experiences is essential for
fulfillment and for preventing or mitigating burnout.
2. Fuel your mind and body.
What you eat directly impacts the
quality of your thinking. Intentionality here is especially important, as high
stress levels can lead to cortisol hormone spikes, which increase appetite and
emotional eating behaviors. As a school leader, I often skipped meals due to a
busy schedule and forgot to drink water; on other days, I chose to eat
something on the go. Processed foods are low in nutrient density; consuming
foods dense with nutrients — such as seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, and
vegetables — and sufficient water is essential for brain activity. Slowing
down lets your body absorb the nutrients in your food. If you make time to sit,
connect with other humans in a relaxed environment, and chew your food fully,
your brain serves you better.
3. Exercise sustainably.
Athletes must move their bodies to
promote recovery and strong performance. Leaders typically fall short in one of
two ways. Many don’t move enough; twenty minutes of light exercise can trigger
the release of serotonin, which makes you feel more focused, emotionally
stable, happier, and calmer. The movement need not be extreme: walking helps you
think, improves your mood, and helps you
If you have developed an exercise
habit, evaluate whether it is supporting your goals. When an intense fitness
class leaves you nauseous, exhausted, or injured, how does that help you? High
intensity work, in fact, can promote brain fog. Is that actually what you want to do before your strategic
planning session? The ideal is somewhere in the middle. A balance of
resistance training and aerobic work appropriate for your capacity and skills
will best support you. Strength training has been found to improve sleep and
cognition and to alleviate anxiety and
For all humans, sleep is one of the
most important things you can do, yet most Americans don’t get enough. Being
underslept correlates with poorer decision-making and health. The really hard part is that, when you’re sleep
deprived, your brain does not realize how sleep deprived it is. Take steps to
ensure you are getting the sleep you need. Wind-down routines leading to a
dark, cool bedroom help you bring your best self the next day.
5. Balance work and rest.
It’s important to think about
balancing work with rest and recovery, both in the short and long term: day,
week, month, year. Most people enter unsustainable professional stretches,
whether driven by a new project, understaffing, or significant disruption to
work conditions. The rate of work at these times must be balanced by rest in
order to avoid burnout. Periodic pushes may be unavoidable, but they must be
balanced with rest and recovery. Don’t throw yourself out as the starting pitcher
every day all year. Build a full bullpen by empowering your team around you.
There’s a reason why leagues track player minutes and throw counts precisely.
You have to periodize to avoid overuse and burnout. Conventional schedules
allocate time for you to rest: use your nights, weekends, and vacations to
unplug and recover.
6. Regulate your emotions.
Athletes are able to regulate their
emotions to bring out their best performance. Emotional stability brings out
the best performance in you and your team. Practicing mindfulness, noticing
your emotions in the moment, breathing, and building awareness of specific
emotions all support your ability to lead. After practicing these strategies
for your own emotional health, consider creating pathways to support your team
in doing the same. Cultivating a space in which people feel safe to continually
improve starts with you.
Elite athletes stay on top only by
getting better each day. Modern teams have improved in recent years by drawing
upon new sources of information, such as video and data analytics. Leaders,
too, must intentionally seek out ways to learn. Dedicate time to reflect daily
on what went well and what didn’t. Actively solicit feedback from your coach
and your colleagues, and show your team how you have incorporated their
opinions. Creating a culture in which your team learns starts with you.
8. Build habits and routines.
40% of our behaviors are habitual. Busy schedules do not allow for daily
conscious choices in prioritization, rest, nutrition, movement, learning, and
emotional regulation. Building consistent routines in each of these domains is
essential to bringing your best each day. In the long run, consistency
outperforms short, intensive bursts.
We receive and internalize complex messages about our bodies and our work. Optimizing for leadership performance requires aligning professional and personal visions with habits. As with professional sports, leading change requires discipline around the clock to maximize your results.
In the pre-industrial age, when we worked from home (“cottage industries”) workers got paid by the piece.
As we moved to factories, it shifted. Many workers preferred a reliable regular paycheck, and owners decided to profit by investing in productivity and keeping the upside. When new machines show up, the workers don’t get paid more, but the boss makes more.
Now, as work-from-home promises/threatens to become a norm for many knowledge workers, the question is back.
Some bosses are demanding workers return to the office, and some managers have spent the last year forcing people to endure endless zoom meetings. The mindset seems to be that if your time is what got purchased, the boss wants to be sure you’re spending all of that time at work on work, not, who knows, tending for an ill family member or something.
But as it gets easier to measure productivity and contribution, and as it gets easier to outsource any task that can be described clearly, there’s a fork in the road:
If we’re not buying or selling hours, what, exactly do we measure and how are we compensated for it? Are workers ready or open to getting a commission, a profit-share or a per-piece price? And if we’re not selling our time but our contribution, does that further self-center the culture?
And if we are buying and selling hours, how does that work when surveillance capitalism bumps into workers needing flexible schedules and the trust that it takes to develop leadership and creative contribution?
Is it okay with you, the boss, if one of your workers dramatically increases productivity through some outsourcing or tech shortcuts on their own nickel and then goes home at 2 pm every day?
Is it okay if you have another worker who works until midnight every night but doesn’t get nearly as much done?
What about a team of five deciding to skip most of their meetings, coordinate through a shared doc and put the time they save into going for a walk or thinking about the next breakthrough?
If it’s truly about what we produce, how many people on the team are aware of how much they produce? What would happen if they were?
The theory of the firm was based on two key assumptions: That workers needed to be in physical proximity to each other, and that communicating with and measuring outsiders was simply too expensive to scale. For a lot of knowledge work, neither is completely true any more, and so we have to reckon with what the right size of a ‘firm’ even is.
The very nature of the factory and employment is completely up in the air. Instead of bragging about how many employees a company has, how big the office is, how many folks are in any given meeting… some leaders may start optimizing for how few they need to get the work done.
When we think of someone with integrity, we think of someone we can count on to come through on what they promise. Unfortunately, that’s not always a safe bet today.
Over the last several years I’ve noticed a change in the way we use the word integrity. The word used to mean staying true to your word—even if it’s difficult, inconvenient, or expensive. But today I hear more and more people using the word as if it means being true to themselves—even if that means leaving someone else to clean up the mess.
This might look like a win if we’re trying to save ourselves from difficulty and discomfort, but it will come back to bite us in the end. Nothing destroys our credibility faster than bailing on a commitment.
Why is integrity so important?
Trust depends on integrity. If people can’t rely on your word, they won’t trust you. They may extend some grace, but eventually, people will doubt and disbelieve.
Influence depends on trust. People will refuse the influence of leaders they distrust. Just look at how this plays out in politics or the media. We follow people we trust.
Impact depends on influence. You can’t make the impact you want unless you can influence others and shift their behavior.
Now think of other relationships: marriage, parenting, church, whatever. The strength of our relationships is measured by how much people can count on us. If we’re not true to our words, that means our relationships will be as unreliable as we are.
“The strength of our relationships is measured by how much people can count on us.” – Michael Hyatt, Author
Like any skill, the ability to lead successfully has to be developed and nurtured. First-time managers, especially those with little or no training, may find it counterintuitive that the “script” they’ve relied upon until now – “My skills, my talents, and my technical knowledge have led to my success” – is no longer their ticket to success as new leaders.
In fact, sticking to the same script will actually make them less effective.
Instead, new leaders must “flip their script” in the way they think and act in these 5 Key Areas:
1. Start learning like a leader
Center for Creative Leadership faculty member William Gentry, author of Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, explains that successful first-time managers are able to flip their mindset from “being a great individual contributor” to “being a team leader who motivates others to succeed.”
Gentry’s research found that such leaders tend to have a more open approach to learning than those stuck in the individual contributor mindset.
“Their motivation to learn because it was fun, exciting, and engaging…far outweighed their motivation to learn because it would bring them rewards, recognition, and would impress others.” Gentry even found that effective new leaders talked to themselves differently, using second-person pronouns (you and your) and not first-person pronouns (I, me, and my).
An old script might read, “I’ve never been a manager before. How can I possibly do this?”
A more constructive inner dialogue for effective new managers is: “You have the ability to learn about leading others. You can be a great boss.”
2. Build skills for team success.
According to Gentry’s research, effective leaders are those who make the flip from the skill set that has worked for them in the past to learning new skills crucial to managing others:
Communicating with others the way they want to be communicated with
Influencing others to move work forward and gain support for their decisions
Building and leading teams successfully
Developing others’ skills by assigning them challenging tasks and providing ongoing feedback
In Gentry’s research, leaders who relied solely on the technical expertise that landed them their promotion were unsuccessful in their new leadership role.
3. Delegate — don’t do it all.
Productive leaders drive team results by delegating tasks. They set goals for their team members, and they give positive and negative feedback to help them develop.
“Do it all” bosses who haven’t flipped their script still define themselves by the amount of work they alone do.
By not delegating, they convey the message that they don’t trust their team to do a good job. Team members stagnate, productivity slows, and the company suffers.
4. See the bigger picture.
New leaders face an abrupt change of perspective, from “outsider” to “insider” when it comes to company politics. In his book, Gentry explains that first-time managers who accept politics as a necessary part of the big picture tend to be more productive and satisfied with their jobs.
They work with the system by:
gathering information about the thoughts, behaviors, and needs of coworkers and stakeholders
observing what is appropriate behavior for each situation and acting on that
connecting genuinely with a diverse group of people to build support for their team’s and stakeholders’ goals and gain new information
New leaders who don’t expand their perspective will likely view politics as a chore and won’t garner any of the benefits.
5. Focus on what’s “right,” not what’s easy.
With leadership comes responsibility — to always act on what is “right,” rather than what’s easy or self-serving. Strong leaders have flipped their focus from themselves to how their actions could affect their team, the organization, and everyone involved.
Developing integrity takes time and practice. Gentry advises:
When making important decisions, ask, “What would Mom or (important others in your life) think about this?”
Be honest about what you can and cannot do — and when you can deliver.
Don’t let a relationship, time pressure, or monetary rewards cloud your judgment; take yourself out of the equation to fully understand the consequences of any decision.
New leaders who focus on integrity build trusting relationships with their team and are more likely to enjoy long-term success.
Courtesy of Center for Creative Leadership
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower