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5 Leader Mistakes That Cripple Teams

by Dianna Booher

As a leader, you create the culture that either helps your teams thrive––or barely survive. Obviously, no leader intentionally stalls or stymies a team. But even the best leaders occasionally make mistakes that freeze their people rather than free them to excel. Here’s how that happens:

Avoid These 5 Mistakes Leaders Make That Cripple Teams

Mistake #1: Promising Rather Than Asking

Many managers schedule meetings primarily for output—to communicate information: “Here’s what the executive team wants, thinks, or needs from you.”

Then the leader gives vague promises: “In third quarter, we’re going to do X.” “In Q4, we hope to complete Y, which will increase our margin considerably.”  “Toward year’s end, we hope to be able to increase our bonuses—that is, if the salespeople continue to meet projections.”

Granted, good leaders keep their teams informed. But primarily these leaders use meetings to coach rather than make vague promises. They plan around guiding questions as their framework: What are you working on this month? What assistance do you need from me and your coworkers in the room?  In what way can we be a sounding board for you on the project? Have you run into roadblocks where we can help?

Your employees prefer coaches to commentators.

Mistake #2: Giving Solutions Rather Than Growing Innovators

Great leaders stretch their team members. They present them with new opportunities and challenging situations and then coach them to innovate with new products and services. By always hovering in the background with “the correct answers,” leaders turn creative team members into disengaged robots.

Contrarily, when employees pursue solutions themselves, they take ownership, become accountable for results, engage with the process and each other, and feel that their work contributes to the bigger picture.

As a result of letting them struggle for solutions themselves, team members develop their skills, the leader benefits, and the organization benefits long-term.

Mistake # 3: Identifying Problems Rather Than Opportunities

Hearing the term “problem” puts team members on high alert and creates tension. Instead, be the leader who sees the glass half-full, not half-empty. Help your team members see the opportunity to “build camaraderie” while working with different cross-functional teams, “broaden expertise,” or “gain higher visibility” in the organization.

Mistake #4: Talking About Change Rather Than Improvement

“You need to change from a sedentary lifestyle.” “You need to change your diet.” “We need to change how we deliver customer service in this department.” These changes sound like they might take weeks, months, or even years to put into practice—even if you wanted to change. And even if you make the change, the results might be negligible.

These changes sound easier because they’re specific and limited: “You need to walk at least three times a week.” “You need to add more vegetables to you diet.”  “I’d like to see you adopt some project management scheduling tools.” Or: “We need to improve our customer service. What are your ideas for where we could use temporary staff?”

Words shape thoughts. Improving something sounds much easier than rebuilding it, eliminating it, or redoing it.

Mistake #5:  Giving Feedback Before Flashbacks

The best way to build trust is before you need it.

Think like Hollywood scriptwriters: The movie opens at a dramatic scene. The heroine stalks into the boardroom, pulls a gun from her briefcase, accuses the company of fraud, and demands the executives release her from the contract. The chairman tells her to sit down—that she has things all wrong.

The scene fades. A graphic appears on the screen: “Three years earlier.” The next scene shows the heroine and the chairman of the board back-packing with two toddlers on vacation.

As a viewer, you immediately think, “Oh, let me rethink this situation: Maybe I’ve misunderstood what’s going on here. Let me consider who’s the trustworthy character here with the good intentions.”

If leaders plan to give feedback, they first need to have deposited a reservoir of trust. When negative things happen, the typical reaction is resistance. To overcome that resistance, people need to be able to flashback and recall your good intentions toward them.

Establish a strong connection before an occasion calls for negative feedback.

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