One of the greatest challenges in leadership is overcoming the all too tempting urge to do-absolutely-everything-imaginable-yourself and effectively making things happen through other people. This is essential to fostering great performance. It’s also, unfortunately, an area most leaders struggle with on a daily basis. While there are many reasons leaders limit their ability to drive performance through their teams, we’ve got the top five you should focus on to start turning things around.
Mistake #1) Not taking the time to understand the world of your employees. It’s a natural human tendency – we all approach situations from our own biased point of view. However, when you’re in a leadership role, you don’t have the luxury of being myopic. Failing to truly wrap your head around your employees’ perspective significantly hinders how much influence you’re likely to have over them. This is mainly because you’ll limit your communication. If you don’t know how your people truly perceive the circumstances surrounding them and, perhaps more importantly, what it is they each personally care most about with regard to their work, you’re not truly connecting with them.
Quick Fix: Make an effort to assess the terrain from your employees’ perspective. This will help you communicate from a place of shared understanding. That shared understanding will allow you to gain the full commitment you need from your team.
Mistake #2) Not clearly explaining your expectations in the face of changing priorities. The constant flux of new fires to put out and tasks to tackle can make it extremely difficult for the average leader to stay on top of things. It can be even harder when you’re the one reporting to that leader. Employees today are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of changing priorities they’re presented with at work. And what’s even more overwhelming is trying to decipher what the boss really sees as a top priority. Should they drop the high-visibility large-scale project for the more immediate and higher urgency, yet less important one you’re obviously stressing over? Your best bet is to clearly explain where to focus because leaving them guessing as to what’s actually important means they’ll often wrongly assess where they should spend their time. Ultimately this leaves you with attention and energy misspent and employees sensing they’re a disappointment.
Quick Fix: As tasks pile on, be sure you’re not just passing them along with an unrealistic edict to stay on top of it all but rather are giving the clarity needed to be responsible and responsive. Consistently prioritize and delineate where your employees can make the most use of their time.
Mistake #3) Not empowering your people to come up with their own solutions to business problems. Leaders frequently get caught up in problem-solving mode and assume they have to call the shots in order for work to get done. This is a painful mistake for employees, customers, and the leaders themselves. In nearly all cases, front-line employees have the greatest ability to deal with issues that arise yet they’re not always given that opportunity. They have the greatest understanding of the context, are facing the issue in real-time, and typically have the capacity to address the issue most expediently. If you’re requiring employees to run issues through you and escalate decision-making, you run the risk of wasting time, slowing down both their productivity as well as your own, and leaving your employees feeling they have no direct tie to making an impact.
Quick Fix: Ensure your employees have the authority to take action when it’s needed. They keep things moving at a steady pace, information isn’t needlessly channeled up and down the chain of command, and your people can tangibly see their efforts matter.
Mistake #4) Becoming rigid under pressure. As business demands increase, the natural response is to hunker down and try to push through as much work as possible. This is a fatal flaw for leaders. The more rigid and overworked you allow yourself to become, the more likely you are to become inflexible and constrained. This state is far from conducive to peak performance. If you’re failing to ask for help when you need it you leave yourself susceptible to negative emotions that can limit your efficiency and productivity. Combine this with the fact that negative moods are contagious and you exacerbate the situation to the point where you’re quite literally contaminating your work environment. If everyone’s in a funk, you can bet performance is suffering.
Quick Fix: Be prudent with how much you’re taking on and how much you’re dishing out. Yes, you need to make sure your division head has the report necessary for that next big presentation, but can you constrain the amount you’re required to produce for that to a reasonable amount that will allow you to stay on top of the other projects competing for your attention? Beyond limiting what you’re saying ‘yes’ to, it can also help to share the workload. Try delegating what doesn’t truly need your full supervision. It can give others the challenge they need to feel engaged and you the breathing room you need to think soundly and stay on task.
Mistake #5) Not defining and/or measuring progress. When you’re caught up in the pace of modern business it can be tough to distance yourself enough to clearly determine key drivers for success. This can mean you’re missing opportunities to show employees what they’re doing is making a difference. It can also mean you’re missing an opportunity to celebrate the successes along the way. Both are essential to connecting employees’ efforts with the broader organization and helping them feel a sense of purpose and dedication to their work.
Quick Fix: Establish a line of sight to organizational goals and make it well known. Illustrate how what your employees do as part of their respective roles connects with the organization’s vision and the employees’ collective future. Measure this against targets to demonstrate momentum. It’s a powerful, renewable motivator for performance.
Driving performance through others is a difficult, complex endeavor. It’s increasingly easy to become reactive and mired down in an established, trusted way of operating that doesn’t always lend itself to results. However, through sticking to these guidelines you’ll begin to shift toward a more effective means for getting the best from your people.