Back in the day, when there were 33 people running around here without the revenue to support their salaries (see yesterday’s blog post), I worked with a managing director who was masterful at communications.
I used to do three things that drove her crazy:
- Communicating via memo (email). It was how I was taught in the big, global firm. I didn’t realize it was poor leadership or poor communication.
- Hiding behind the written word because I am an introvert and despise conflict and confrontation.
- Throwing email bombs into the office after hours.
After a particularly hard trip with a client, I jotted off an email to the team to tell them how displeased he was…and sent it at midnight.
The next morning, they all came into the office to this email and I was happily snoring away (I don’t really snore!) in my hotel room in San Diego.
When I returned to the office, the first thing our managing director did is come into my office, close the door, and explain why that was so bad.
I remember, at the time, thinking, “How dare she question my leadership and communication skills? I was raised in the best PR firm in the world.”
But she was right.
I was angry that the client cornered me at dinner and told me all of the things my team was doing wrong and I wanted that off of my chest, even if it was the middle of the night.
Say What You Do; Do What You Say
What would have been better, of course, is if I had used the travel time home to calm myself down, gone into the office, called a meeting, and discussed the client’s issues and concerns as a proper adult and better leader.
After I figured out she was right about my poor leadership habits, I hired myself a leadership coach and got to work.
To do this day, some of the very best advice he gave me (other than constantly asking my team, “What do you think?“) was around letting people work a normal day.
You see, I was hearing grumblings that it was expected people work 24/7.
It wasn’t expected—and I said that over and over again—but I quickly learned my actions didn’t show it.
I arrived in the office around 6:30 a.m. and there were some nights I didn’t leave until 9 p.m.
I was totally cool with being there alone—in fact, I relished it because that’s when I got the most work accomplished, but I left my team with a very different message.
If I was in the office, they figured they had to be, as well.
It wasn’t my expectation, but it also wasn’t the message I was delivering.
My coach relayed a story to me about how, when he was working for one of the big banks, he would pack up his things, turn off his lights, and leave his office.
He’d say goodnight to everyone (which indicated they could leave, too) and then he’d find an interior office without windows on a different floor and set-up shop there so he could finish his work, uninterrupted.
Because no one knew he was doing that—and he was smart about not sending emails after hours (I love SendLater for this)—his actions matched his message that no one was expected to work 24/7.
When I did the same thing (except I went home to work), morale quickly climbed because my actions matched my words.
Poor Leadership Habits to Banish
As it turns out, there is more than poor leadership habits that can drive your team crazy—no matter if you’re the owner of the company or you have one direct report.
- Pursuing false precision. How many of you have ever been asked to propose a communications plan or create a new business plan for three years running? Is it easy to do? I’d venture to guess the answer is no. That is because too many things can change in just a week’s time, let alone in the next three years. Yet, some bosses want to see your projections for the next three years—and then they hold you to it, no matter what changes (like, I don’t know, the Great Recession). This is why I love the quarterly plan the book Traction introduces. It’s much, much easier to plan that way, execute well, and exceed expectations.
- Not making decisions. This could also be called overanalyzing or overthinking EVERYTHING. As it turns out, most of us are not brain surgeons and no one will die if we make the wrong decision. Yet, avoiding a decision drives your team absolutely mad. It’s the “what do you want for dinner?” conversation on steroids. And I know all of you who are married or have long-term partners know exactly what I mean by that. Just freaking decide and go with it!
- Avoiding tough discussions. Likewise, not having tough discussions only worsens things. I admitted up there at the top of this blog post that I hate conflict and confrontation, so I get it. But you know what happens when you have a conversation early on? It’s not nearly as bad as you’ve built it up in your head AND it’s far worse that it will be a week from now…or a month from now…or a year from now, when you’re so fed up you just fire the person. If you have feedback for someone that will help them move forward, it’s highly likely they’re expecting it and need to know what to do better or differently. By avoiding it, you hurt both of you…and the company and morale and culture.
- Using email as the only communication method. (Or Slack or IM.) And don’t avoid it all by hiding behind email. There are definitely times when the written word will suffice: If you’re joking around with your team, if you just need a quick answer to something, if you need a policy in writing. But most of the time, communication should happen face-to-face (or video-to-video if you have a distributed workforce). I have a friend whose boss will only communicate with him via email. They’ve spent the past four weeks discussing an issue, getting confused, misunderstanding one another, and getting pissed…rather than have a 15 minute phone call that would alleviate all of that. To say he’s frustrated is putting it mildly. Don’t do that.
And now the floor is yours.
What are some of the poor leadership habits you’ve seen that drive a team absolutely batty?