What is the most frustrating quality you’ve dealt with in a boss?
If you’re struggling to respond, consider yourself lucky – in my experience, most people have absolutely no problem answering this question. Whether it’s an overbearing demeanor, constant criticism, or poor listening skills, I’ve heard them all.
A recent LinkedIn survey posed this question to 2,968 employees, and four complaints were listed most often. According the the results, the top most frustrating qualities were bosses who:
- Set unclear or frequently changing expectations (this one won by a sizable margin)
- Are unavailable or uninvolved
- Don’t attend to employee development
Having coached leaders for almost 15 years, these results ring true to me. I’ve heard complaints about each of these qualities numerous times. In fact, I’ve seen many talented people leave jobs that they otherwise passionate about, simply to get away from bosses who exhibited these aggravating traits.
Are you guilty of any of these qualities? While you might be embarrassed to discover that you’ve been frustrating the people around you, all is not lost. There are definitely things you can do to improve in each of these areas. Let’s get started!
1. Lack of Clarity and Consistency
Here’s the deal. Most people want to feel as if they are performing well at work. They might not all have aspirations to become CEO, but they generally want to do a good job. So, if your expectations aren’t clear, or if they’re constantly changing, it can be incredibly frustrating because you leave others with no way to accurately gauge how they’re doing.
Imagine that you receive an assignment from your boss. You go off and do it to the best of your ability, then present the fruits of your labor for feedback. Your boss responds, “You know what? I’ve rethought this and I think we should take a different approach.”
If that happens every so often, it’s understandable. We all change our minds every now and then. However, if it happens consistently, that’s a recipe for frustration.
To guard against this, a good rule of thumb as a leader is to first do a self-check to ensure that you, in fact, are sure about your expectations of your employees. Once you’ve achieved clarity in your own mind, communicate your desired outcomes as clearly as possible. Then, to ensure that you and your employee are on the same page, have him or her repeat back the key takeaways. While this last step may seem unnecessary, it can be a helpful way of ensuring articulated your thoughts effectively. It’ll also help you to clarify any misunderstandings – before your employee goes off and puts a lot of misdirected work into their assignment.
Another frequent scenario I’ve seen that leads to unclear expectations is the leader who “thinks out loud.” These are the sorts of leaders who generate multiple ideas or muse about a variety of possible paths while meeting with their team members.
What these leaders often fail to recognize is that their words carry a lot of weight. So, although they think they’re just opining on a topic, their employees might interpret those musings as action items that they should attend to. Then, when they go off and work on those perceived assignments and later find out that the boss has changed his or her outlook in the next meeting, it can feel as though they’re getting inconsistent messages.
How do you guard against this? Label what you’re doing. If you’re simply thinking out loud, say so. You’ll likely save your employees quite a bit of grief.
How do you feel when someone gives you an assignment, tells you exactly how to do it, breathes down your neck as you’re doing it, then corrects every minute detail when you’re done?
Not good? Well, that’s how your employees feel when you micromanage.
It’s probably not shocking to hear that it’s a consistent finding that people are happiest with their work when they feel they have some degree of autonomy. Therefore, when bosses micromanage, employees frequently disengage.
Nitpickers usually tell people exactly how they want things done and give them a lot of correction, so that they’ll perform at a higher level. Ironically, they often get the opposite outcome. After all, why would you put in the effort to do your best work, if you’re convinced that nothing you do is going to be good enough? A more efficient strategy would be to do a “good enough” job, and take the inevitable criticism when it comes.
So what do you do if you’re prone to micromanaging? Start by putting a bit more trust in your employees. When you delegate, tell them the outcome you would like them to achieve. Then, have them brainstorm how they might accomplish this (depending on the complexity of the task, this may not all happen in one sitting). Provide some guidelines, if appropriate, but if you find yourself communicating about the minutiae, you’re likely venturing into micromanagement territory.
Then, let your employee complete the task. Provide feedback as needed, but remember that there are multiple ways to achieve a goal. Just because it wasn’t performed exactly the way you would have done it, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t acceptable. If you don’t achieve perfection the first time around, that’s okay. Coaching is part of your job, after all. (More on that later).
Finally, keep in mind that if you’re micromanaging every detail of their work, there’s a good likelihood that you’re not spending enough time attending to the higher impact, strategic activities that you should be focusing to as a leader. (For some additional inspiration to delegate, click here).
3. Not Involved Enough
On the opposite end of the spectrum from micromanagers, are bosses who are either uninvolved or don’t give their employees enough structure. This can happen for a number of reasons. Perhaps the leader is new to management, and simply hasn’t developed any sound management practices. Maybe he is so busy, that he simply isn’t prioritizing time with his team. She could be someone who is low-key and easygoing, and so she errs on the side of providing her staff with too much leeway. Or, perhaps he is so familiar with the work, that he assumes others don’t need a lot of oversight.
Regardless of the cause, the result is employees who are often frustrated that they can’t get enough time with the boss. At the extreme, they might even feel that they’re floundering without adequate structure.
To be make sure you are adequately involved with your team, be disciplined about having regular touch points. Depending on the level of the person you are managing and the nature of their work, these can include staff meetings and one-on-ones. These regular check-ins provide opportunities for you to see how their work is progressing and for them to ask questions and provide you with feedback. They can also help you to see early on if a project is going off the rails early. That way, you can provide appropriate direction to help them to get back on track sooner, as opposed to later.
In addition to these more formal meetings, it’s also important to make yourself available informally. Although your workload might not always enable you to have an unlimited open-door policy, it’s essential to make sure that you’re putting adequate focus on building relationships with your team. This will show that you’re approachable, and increase the odds that others will ask for help when they need it.
Finally, keep in mind that people vary in terms of the amount of structure they prefer – and the amount that they need. So, even if you prefer to work without a lot of structure, be intentional about meeting your employees where they’re. That way, you can keep them engaged, and help them to perform at their best.
4. Doesn’t Foster Development
A complaint I hear pretty often from employees (particularly high achievers), is that they don’t receive enough coaching and development from their bosses. Because they’re performing well, they often get the message to “keep doing what you’re doing.” And, although the leaders who communicate this are often well-intentioned, it can be frustrating for ambitious workers who want to grow.
As a leader, remember that getting the work done isn’t your only responsibility. It’s also your job to help your people to grow. That way, they’ll become even more effective in their current roles, and potentially get promoted so that they can help the company in bigger ways.
To ensure that you’re placing enough of an emphasis on developing your people, make sure to have regular career conversations with them. Ask them what their career aspirations are, and then, based on that, collaboratively come up with some development goals. Keep those goals in mind, as you look for opportunities to provide them with stretch assignments or send them to conferences or educational activities.
Finally, make sure to provide them with high quality feedback. When they perform well, be specific about what they did, so that you can help them to leverage their strengths. Also, look for opportunities to provide constructive feedback. If it’s understood that you’re helping them to get better (like a coach would do for an athlete), they’ll have the sense that you’re on their side, and that you’re devoted to helping them to accomplish their career goals. (For some more resources on this, click here).
Let’s face it – being an exceptional manager can be hard work. But, it’s totally doable. Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way.
Need a step-by-step guide to help you to be a better boss? Take my Management Essentials Course. (Or if you’d prefer to read, check out my book, The Consummate Leader: a Holistic Guide to Inspiring Growth in Others…and in Yourself).
As a leader, it’s your job to help your employees to perform at their very best. At the end of the day, when they’re crushing it at work, everyone wins.
Still, setting the goals that will help your direct reports to get the best results is often a tricky endeavor. On one hand, you have your own performance goals that need to be accomplished. At the same time, your employees have their own aspirations that might or might not always match up neatly with your area’s objectives.
So, the million dollar question is, how do you set goals that will both motivate your employees and drive the business forward?
Use this three-step process to get started:
1. Have ongoing discussions with your employees about their career goals
Most high performers relish being given opportunities to learn and grow. It allows them to feel that they’re progressing in their careers, while also providing a sense of pride when they’re able to reflect on their latest accomplishments.
Luckily, there’s a good chance that the same goals that will help your employees to get themselves ready to advance their careers will also help you and your department to get better results. After all, if they’re picking up new skills and taking on more responsibility, not only will they become more attractive for promotions, it will likely also give you more opportunities to delegate. In turn, this will allow you to free up more time to devote to the higher level, strategic work that will help you to get next level results.
To get ideas about potential assignments for your employees, have regular career discussions. Ask them about their short-term and long-term goals. Have them think about what challenges they would like in the workplace. Encourage them to reflect on their values, and how they can ensure they’re expressing on them on the job.
Showing a genuine interest will also help to deepen your relationships, and will likely contribute to increased morale.
2. Consider the goals that are most important for your area to achieve
Although it would be nice if you could always be the person setting your own goals, the reality is that your targets sometimes come from on high – that’s simply a part of business. Therefore, as a next step, make a list of all of your goals – those from your boss, as well as those you hope to achieve. Put them in order of priority and brainstorm about how your employees could possibly help you to accomplish them.
As you consider each person’s career aspirations (and current skill sets), think of which goals would be a good match for them. Consider this both from the standpoint of giving them chances to highlight their current skills, as well as opportunities develop new skills for future roles.
Keep in mind that providing developmental assignments will help you to create a more well-rounded team, and increase your bench strength for talent management. Plus, as they get better, so will your results!
3. Collaboratively agree upon their goals (where possible) and make sure to tie them to a compelling purpose
Although all goals may not be able to be set collaboratively, where it is doable, include your employee in the process. This will increase the likelihood that they’ll be bought-in and motivated. Further, it could alert you to potential obstacles or pitfalls of which you’re unaware.
To do this, sit down with your employee and share your thoughts about assignments that could help both of you to achieve your goals. (For some ideas about common developmental areas, click here).
- For example, do you have someone who would like to become a leader in the future? Give her an opportunity to lead an internal project.
- Is someone interested in learning more about a different part of the business? See if there are opportunities for cross-training.
- Do you have an employee whose underwhelming presentation skills are interfering with his ability to move up? Give him more opportunities to speak up (along with plenty of coaching).
As you are speaking with your employee, communicate the goal in a way that will be meaningful. Keep in mind that different people are motivated by different things, and so your aim should be to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, as opposed to just thinking about what would be motivating to you.
Some examples of motivators include: taking on challenges, learning new things, giving back to the community, making a contribution to the team, getting greater visibility, or feeling the sense of satisfaction associated with doing a good job. (If you have discussed their values with them, that will also give you a good sense of the sorts of things that drive them).
Have a dialogue about the goals and come to agreement about them.
A Few More Goal-Setting Tips
When you’re setting the goals themselves, make sure you are specific. According to classic research, a common reason that people fail to meet their goals is that they are too vague. Specific and challenging goals overwhelmingly lead to better performance compared to simply saying “do your best.”
Still, don’t go overboard with it – you have to make sure the goal is reasonable. Although it might initially be exciting to choose a goal that would be a huge stretch, research suggests that although a hyper-ambitious goal may improve performance in the short-term, it might also reduce your commitment and engagement across time, when you see that there’s no way you’re actually going to achieve it.
Therefore, when setting goals, make sure to draw on the SMART goals principles, by making them Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Limited.
Finally, schedule check-in points so you can assess how your employee is progressing. Research has shown that people perform better when they set a goal and and get feedback (as opposed to merely setting the goal). Plus, if you’ve given them a goal that challenges them and requires them to develop new skills, it’ll allow you to help them to course-correct before the project goes entirely off the rails.
When done correctly, the goal-setting process can result in a win-win for you and your employee. Try out these strategies and see for yourself.
Do you feel reluctant to speak up at work? If you are, you’re not alone. As a corporate psychologist and executive coach, I’ve worked with a lot of people who refrain from expressing their ideas in the office. In most cases, they aren’t staying quiet because they don’t have anything to say – instead, they ‘re purposely choosing to censor themselves.
Why are people reluctant to speak up?
In my experience, I’ve found that people are reluctant to speak up for a number of reasons. In some cases, it’s based on organizational concerns. For example, if you work in a toxic workplace, you may have seen other people being punished for speaking up. Consequently, you choose to stay quiet because you know it may not be safe to say what you really think.
In other cases, you may think that it simply isn’t your role to communicate your thoughts. This dynamic often plays out when there are people of different levels in the room. Frequently, the more junior ones will be reticent to speak up because they don’t think they’re supposed to. At other times, they may want to say something, but are concerned that it may be at odds with their senior colleague’s views.
In some instances, aspects of your personality may prevent you from speaking up at work. For example, if you lack confidence or feel like an “imposter,” you may question the value of your ideas. As a result, you might keep your thoughts to yourself because you don’t think they’re worthy of being voiced. Or, if you are introverted, shy, or uncomfortable being in the spotlight, you may choose to stay quiet so as not to call attention to yourself.
A fear of confrontation can also cause you to be reluctant to share your ideas. For example, if you’re afraid of conflict and don’t want to challenge others’ perspectives, you may stay quiet to avoid having someone disagree with you. Or, you might refrain from speaking up at work because you’re concerned that if you express a difference of opinion, you will hurt someone else’s feelings.
At the core of all of these reasons is a desire to remain safe. This is a perfectly reasonable desire; however, in the above scenarios, many of the perceived threats are based on your own insecurities. While this might feel more comfortable, do you really want to allow your self-doubt to prevent your from fulfilling your potential?
Why should you make your voice heard at work?
Given that there is a sense of safety in staying quiet, why would you want to speak up? After all, doesn’t sharing your views open you up to potential conflict or embarrassment? While that is a possibility, I’ve found that people often overestimate the risk. In my experience, if you’re in a reasonably supportive culture, there are many more benefits than disadvantages to speaking up at work.
Think of it – you have a unique perspective. No one else in your organization (or the world, for that matter) has the exact same outlook and perspectives as you do. Therefore, when you share your thoughts, they can potentially help the organization and spark other ideas in the people around you. Research suggests that cognitively diverse teams solve problems more quickly. However, if you’re not sharing your opinions, your team isn’t able to benefit from them.
Speaking up can also help your career. After all, you were hired for the contribution that others thought that you could make. This means that when you speak up, you can maximize your impact on the organization. If, however, you choose to keep your opinions to yourself, there’s a good chance that your value could be overlooked (or at least, underestimated). I’ve observed this many times, when I’ve worked with brilliant people, who didn’t speak up. Instead of being seen as the thought leaders they could be, they were perceived as mediocre employees without the potential to advance.
Finally, for many people, speaking up at work simply feels better on an emotional level, than stifling themselves all the time. (I can personally attest to this, as noted in this article). Instead of feeling frustrated, you could feel empowered by asserting yourself. In addition, it may help you to feel more connected to your work, because you could have greater influence on your environment.
So, should you just take off Your filter and say whatever you want?
Let’s face it – while it would be nice to think that speaking up at all times is the right thing to do, sometimes, it simply may not be appropriate. Therefore, the issue of whether expressing yourself will help or hurt you depends largely on what you are speaking up about, and when and how you do it.
With respect to run-of-the-mill topics, speaking up can often contribute to being seen as someone who cares about the organization, takes initiative, and has a desire for influence. As noted earlier, if you have a lot of great ideas, but keep them to yourself, others in the organization might undervalue what you can contribute. And, this may cause you to get overlooked for promotions. So, speaking up can be a good way to get noticed.
However, if you’re known for putting your foot in your mouth, or speaking without tact, then you’ll likely want to tread a bit more lightly. Speaking with consideration and diplomacy is likely to go over a lot better than saying whatever is on your mind, and justifying it by saying “I’m just being honest.” So, if you are someone who is always complaining, pessimistic, negative, or rude, then speaking up all the time will likely hurt you (unless you improve your communication skills).
Finally, if you want to speak up on a very sensitive topic, then it probably makes sense to consult with someone you trust so that you can craft your message appropriately. If it’s a one-on-one conversation you’re preparing yourself for, you might even want to role play different scenarios. You can also practice mindfulness so that you can take a step back and manage your emotions in the moment, to increase the odds that you’ll convey your ideas in a balanced and constructive way.
Some Tips for Making Your Voice Heard
Want to challenge yourself to speak up more? If you do, here are a few quick tips that will help you to do it effectively.
1. Be Sensitive to Your Audience – If you’re hoping to influence others, make sure to think about what’s important to them. Don’t make the mistake of crafting an argument simply based on what would convince you – take others’ needs, motives, and preferences into account.
2. Use Active Listening Strategies – While it’s beneficial to express your opinion, you’ll likely be more effective if others know that you’re open to their perspectives. Look for points of commonality, express empathy, and communicate to others that you’re considering their thoughts. Doing so will open the door to a more constructive conversation.
3. Speak with Confidence – If you sound uncertain or tentative, even a fabulous idea might be dismissed. Therefore, make sure to practice your delivery so that you can come across as more self-assured. Watch out for filler words, volume, eye contact, and vocal intonation (you might even want to record yourself). If you need some help, try Toastmasters. You’ll get lots of practice, valuable feedback, and support from fellow members.
4. Couch Your Opinion, When Appropriate – Sometimes, depending on the situation, the culture of the organization, and the person(s) with whom you are interacting, you might want to take a more measured approach. For example, if you are in a very hierarchical culture, then saying something like “I wonder if…” might be better received than “You really should…” when speaking to your boss. On the other hand, some leaders and cultures really value candor, and less of that might be necessary.
5. Remember that You Won’t Always Get Your Way – If you express an idea that isn’t accepted, don’t get discouraged. Great solutions often come as a result of a group of people feeding off others’ ideas and expanding upon them. Give yourself a pat on the back for challenging yourself to speak up, and commit to keep practicing!
Poet Audrey Lorde wrote, “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” When done with care, speaking up at work can make you feel more empowered, valued, and engaged on the job.
Although there are still some leaders who stick to the antiquated notion that they should expect their people to perform high quality work regardless of the environment, more and more organizations are acknowledging the benefits of focusing on culture.
Nowadays, savvy leaders recognize that promoting emotional wellness isn’t a mere “touchy-feely” agenda item that they have to do begrudgingly in order to placate their employees. Instead, they recognize that there are many business benefits that come from putting an emphasis on employee well-being.
A review of the research suggests that employees with a sense of well-being tend to be more productive. Happier employees are more engaged with the work that they’re doing, and, for those in client-facing roles, that translates into better customer service. Research also shows that employees who experience more positive emotions make better leaders, are more successful at sales, more resilient, and better colleagues.
How Can Employers Help?
Although each individual is obviously responsible to determining how best to achieve a sense of well-being, there several things that employers can do to create an environment that is supportive of employees’ emotional health. See some suggestions below:
1. Keep workloads manageable
Although this one seems like a given, it’s one that employers often neglect in the quest to get more done with less. However, if employees have more work than they are able to comfortably handle, it can create a sense of pressure and contribute to workaholism. Overwork not only takes diminishes emotional health, it can also decrease work performance because people tend to be less productive when they are experiencing high levels of stress.
Therefore, as a boss it’s essential to check in with your employees to make sure their workloads are reasonable. And, to help them to manage their responsibilities coach them to ensure that they are prioritizing and delegating appropriately.
2. Emphasize the Importance of Taking Vacations
Another way employers can support organizational emotional health is by making sure their employees take time away from the office. And, while it would seem that employees would be clamoring to have some time off from work, a survey by Project Time Off found that over half of American employees didn’t use all of their vacation time. Although there were a number of reasons for leaving vacation time on the table (i.e. finances, concern about returning to a pile of work, feeling that others can’t do their job), a staggering 80% of employees reported that they would be more likely to take time off if they felt that their bosses supported it. Therefore, if you want your employees to manage their stress, encourage them to use their vacation time – and reinforce that message by making sure to take time off yourself.
3. Make sure employees have a chance to disconnect
Our laptops and smartphones provide us with convenience and flexibility, however, they also make us available around the clock. Research suggests that when employees are available 24-7, they are more prone to burnout in the workplace. Being unable to disconnect also tends to decrease their sense of autonomy (a major contributor to work stress), because they feel that they can never escape from their work responsibilities. Further, the effects often trickle over into personal lives by causing conflict in the home, because they’re not fully present with their families.
To combat this, consider setting organizational boundaries regarding after-hours emails. And again, watch the example you’re setting as a leader by refraining from sending emails in the evenings, unless they’re really necessary.
4. Make it easier for Employees to engage in self-care
Employers can also help to increase emotional wellness amongst their employees by encouraging them to take time for self-care. For example, one company that I consult to has Wellness Wednesdays, in which employees are encouraged to wear gym clothes to the office so that they can work out. Others have mindfulness programs, which encourage employees to learn how breathing, meditation, and an intentional approach to life can help them to manage stress. Others have ditched the office candy dish and replaced it with nutritious snacks to promote a healthy lifestyle.
When employees are able to care for their minds, bodies, and spirits, they come to work less stressed, and better able to perform up to their potentials.
5. Encourage employees to build meaningful relationships
Lately, we are learning more and more about the negative effects of loneliness in the workplace. Lonely employees are less productive, less engaged, and more likely to miss work. However, employers can help to combat this, by making it easier for employees to build relationships with one another.
To help employees to build connections, aim to create a culture that encourages friendships by promoting communication, collaboration, and psychological safety. Encourage people to get to know one another. Some ways to do this include featuring employees on the intranet, taking time for employee celebrations (like birthdays and work anniversaries), celebrating successes, and providing opportunities to get together outside of work (like lunches or volunteer activities).
Again, as a leader it’s important to set a good example, by taking a personal interest in your employees. Make sure to take time at the beginning of meetings to allow people to chat with one another. You might also consider bringing in a professional to conduct formal team building. I’ve facilitated a lot of team building sessions, and a common piece of feedback that I hear is that employees really enjoy the opportunity to get to know their colleagues on a deeper level. Not only does it help them to build relationships, it also helps them to better understand one another’s work styles – and that’s key for effective functioning.
6. Show an Interest in Your Employees’ Development
When I ask employees about their favorite bosses, they commonly tell me that they experienced the most growth working for leaders who took an interest in their career success. Therefore, to be a supportive leader, make sure to ask your employees about their career aspirations and what motivates them.
Then, with that information in mind, strive to give them opportunities that can help them to accomplish those goals. When employees know that their employers care about them and are committed to helping them to be successful, it can be incredibly motivating, create a greater sense of loyalty to the company, and increase their level of engagement on the job.
Focusing on boosting your employees’ emotional wellness is a win-win proposition. Your staff will be happier and more engaged, and your organization will have a competitive advantage.
Need some help creating a more positive culture? Learn more about our corporate psychology services.
Most professionals intellectually understand the importance of building relationships at work. Leaders in the business world certainly do. Psychiatrist Srini Pillay, who studies the neuroscience of effective leadership, published an article which explained the importance of skillful communication for effective and inspiring leadership. On one hand, this reads as common sense; on another, it makes you realize how often leaders sacrifice relationship-building for other priorities at work.
At least that has been the case in my experience.
As someone who has coached hundreds of senior executives about management skills and beyond, I’ve found that too many regard relationship-building as fluff, a skill not necessarily related to measurable “success.”
Sure, most people understand the theoretical importance of nurturing professional relationships as they would friendships. But I’ve also seen a lot of professionals dismiss doing this as superfluous, luxurious—a time commitment that doesn’t lead to results. (Little do they possibly know, research has shown that there is an inextricable link between the quality and depth of one’s relationships with coworkers, and overall attitude toward one’s work.)
Additionally, most folks understand the importance of networking as an interpersonal skill, and try to be friendly on the job. But true connection is something different—and its positive effects in the workplace have a correspondingly deep impact, just as they would anywhere else. So how do you know if the relationships you’re pursuing at work are “real”?
The first and most important step is checking in with your motivations, requires a “gut check” by asking some difficult questions.
If you think you could benefit from improving your relationships at work, do your gut-check by considering these four questions.
1. How do I truly feel about my coworkers?
Do you view your coworkers as an annoyance? Does your monthly office happy hour feel like a social activity or a chore? Is getting lunch with colleagues a welcome break, or a distraction that gets in the way of the “real” work?
Different people feel differently about the value of building relationships with coworkers. While some people view it as an opportunity to broaden their network of friends, others see it as a wet blanket. Those in the latter camp may think work should be exclusively about getting stuff done, and that relationships should be reserved for personal time. If you find yourself resonating with this, you’ll need to shift your perspective in order to build the sorts of relationships that will enable you to inspire and engage others.
Remember: you are not working with robots. While we obviously can’t spend the whole day socializing, recognize that connections put us in a better mood, and better moods are linked to better work outcomes.
2. What are my expectations when interacting with others?
All of us have individual histories, and they impact the expectations we carry with us in all facets of life, including the ways we think about interpersonal connection.
How do you expect others to treat you? Do you see the world as a “dog eat dog” place, where you have to be guarded to get ahead? Do you tend to be wary of others? Or is your most frequent state of being open? Trusting? Curious?
If you are someone who expects poor treatment from others, you are likely going to have your defenses up as you navigate the world. This sense of distance can interfere with your ability to build connections, and will be palpable to others.
By opening yourself up to others, you’ll likely be rewarded with higher quality relationships. Plus, as Wharton professor Adam Grant’s research has shown (with a few caveats), generous individuals end up ahead in the business world.
3. Do I see others at work as objects?
For some, the answer to this question might be a bit disconcerting, but I encourage you to be as truthful as you can be, knowing that these questions are just for your growth.
So do you see coworkers as a means to an end? Hurdles to deal with as you go ahead on your own path? Or do you see them as a living, breathing human beings with hopes, challenges, and dreams? Are they equal to you, worthy of respect and consideration?
Note that you may not find yourself willing to admit you regard others as objects. But this attitude can be more subtle than it sounds. If you are treating those around you as a mere part of the background, they will pick up on this. In contrast, the simple act of recognizing your shared humanity with others can make you more compassionate and present, and will deepen the quality of your interactions.
4. What are my values about relationships? Am I embodying them at work?
When most people reflect on their deepest held values, they believe in the importance of kindness, treating others with respect, and contributing to their well-being. Consider your values about how you should treat others.
Then pay attention to see whether you are fully living up to these values. When you try to bulldoze through others so that you can get your way, are you treating them with respect? If you dismiss someone else’s concerns as silly, are you exhibiting empathy? Simply paying attention can give you the heightened awareness necessary to modify your behavior.
While reflecting on these questions might result in some hard truths about yourself that you would rather not face, the fact is, they can be very empowering. Armed with the knowledge about why you may be struggling to connect with those around you, you can make important changes that will deepen your relationships and support your professional success.
Your leadership style can also affect your relationships. Take my Leadership Style Quiz to find out how.
Recently, I had the pleasure of being on In the Workplace on Sirius XM’s Wharton Business Radio. While I was on the show, I talked with the hosts, Peter Cappelli and Dan O’Meara, about a range of leadership topics – everything from narcissists in the workplace to my experiences coaching executives.
During the interview, I was asked the one area in which I felt leaders tended to fall short. Based on my experience, I suggested that it’s soft skills – aspects like emotional intelligence, placing an adequate focus on culture, and coaching employees. This led to an exploration of how many leaders either don’t recognize the importance of coaching, or lack the skills to coach their employees effectively.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have adequate time during the interview to get into any of those areas in any depth. However, I thought it warranted more discussion – hence, this blog post.
Could you stand to improve your coaching skills?
Take a moment to think about how you approach coaching. Could do a better job of helping others to get ready to advance into leadership roles? Are you purposeful about coaching others who have no aspirations to move up, so that they can improve in their current roles?
If you recognize that you have some room for improvement, don’t worry. In my experience, most leaders could benefit from being more intentional about their coaching efforts. But, if you want to get better at developing people, start by asking yourself these five questions.
1. Do I truly believe that people can develop?
While the “right” answer to this question might seem obvious, I still encourage you to do a gut check to see how you really feel.
It’s pretty common for me to hear leaders share beliefs such as “You either have it or you don’t” or “I can’t teach you to be a leader.” These beliefs are characteristic of what psychologist, Carol Dweck, calls a “fixed” mindset. Essentially, leaders with this mindset believe that qualities are innate, and therefore, can’t be developed. By contrast, leaders who feel that skills can, in fact be developed, have a “growth” mindset. As a result, they believe that with the right coaching and strategies, people can improve.
Research has found that managers who have a growth mindset are more likely to invest time and effort into coaching their direct reports than those who have a fixed mindset. This makes sense. After all, if you believe that your efforts will have some sort of impact, you’ll be more likely to engage in those behaviors.
If you have a fixed mindset, all is not lost – growth mindsets can be developed. That aforementioned study found that fixed-mindset managers who were taught about the importance of having a growth mindset exhibited a greater willingness to coach an underperforming employee. They also provided better quality feedback compared to a control group of fixed mindset managers.
Bottom line? Believe that your employees can develop, and put more effort into coaching them. As a result of your efforts, you’ll likely see them improving, and this will further reinforce your behaviors.
2. Am I talking about development throughout the year, or am I only doing it during performance reviews?
When coaching leaders, I commonly ask about how they provide feedback to their team members. In response, I often hear something along the lines of, “I give feedback. We always talk about how they’re doing during performance reviews.” For a leader with this perspective, having those annual conversations means they’re developing their people appropriately.
Others may be more sheepish in their response to this question. They know that providing feedback is something that they should do. However, during their one-on-one meetings, when given the choice between checking up on their peoples’ assignments or conducting developmental conversations, discussions about day-to-day tasks always win out.
If you want to get better at developing people, you have to actually do it. After all, imagine an athlete being told, “These are the things you need to work on,” and then not receiving any additional coaching for a whole year. Would you expect her to make significant gains? Similarly, as a leader, the performance review may set the stage for you to go more in-depth in your development conversations. However, the real improvement occurs as you are providing positive feedback and constructive criticism throughout the year.
Therefore, if you’re serious about helping your team members to grow, make the commitment to provide ongoing coaching. You can do this by carving out time during your one-on-one meetings to talk about their development. You can also do it by aiming to provide feedback as soon as possible – whether it’s congratulating them for a job well-done or suggest tweaks for how they can continue to improve.
3. Do all of my direct reports have development goals?
Are you confident that if I were to ask each of your direct reports about what they’re working on developmentally, they would be able to tell me? If the answer to this question is “I’m not sure” then that’s a good indication that you should likely be doing more in the way of coaching.
To grow, it’s essential to know what it is that you’re working on, and how you’re going about doing it. Therefore, make sure to talk with your people about their aspirations, and then collaboratively set goals with them. In addition, work with them to create development plans, so that they have a clearly outlined strategy for how to move forward. This will help to ensure that their development stays top-of-mind for both of you.
4. Am I intentional about giving people opportunities that will stretch them?
As a manager, it feels great to be able to delegate tasks that you know people can do in their sleep. When you do that, you know you won’t get any unwelcome surprises or sub-par work. But, although it’s obviously beneficial to assign responsibilities that people can easily do, if those are the only projects that you’re giving them, then it’s likely that you’re not doing the best job of developing them.
If you want to get better at developing people, make sure that some of the projects you give them are challenging ones that will require them to learn new skills. Consider their development goals, then give them targeted assignments that will encourage them to grow in those areas.
Will doing this require more oversight, effort, and feedback from you as their manager? Yes. Will it also allow you to develop your coaching skills? Absolutely.
5. Am I open to feedback?
As a leader, part of your job is to set an example for the sorts of attitudes you want your team members to exhibit. Therefore, if you want your people to see coaching as a normal part of professional growth, you’ll need to demonstrate that behavior yourself by showing that you’re open to feedback.
You can do this by asking them for feedback during your one-on-one sessions. (A popular way to do this is by taking time at the end of your meetings to ask them about which behaviors they would like for you to stop, start, and continue). You can also make yourself vulnerable by sharing your own development goals with them. Finally, when receiving criticism, you’ll need to make sure to manage your emotions, listen thoughtfully, and guard against defensiveness.
These sorts of actions model that everyone has areas for growth. They also show that receiving information about ways in which you can develop is positive. If you want to create a feedback-rich environment, it’s got to start from the top.
Bill Bradley said, ”Leadership is unlocking other people’s potential to become better.” If you want to be the sort of leader who helps others to fulfill their potential, put more of a focus on developing people. You’ll be rewarded with more engaged employees and a higher performing team.
Need some more tips on becoming a more effective leader? Read my book, The Consummate Leader, or take my Management Essentials Online Course.