Teams are delicate organisms, the corporate equivalent of a Bonsai tree that requires copious and precise attention to cultivate it, prune it and encourage it to flourish. A healthy team can move mountains and a demoralized one can’t wait to move on to greener pastures. The responsibility for team health rests in the hands of the team leader. A good leader can build and manage a great team. A poor leader can take a great team and destroy it through carelessness, ineptitude or just plain bad judgment. If any of these behaviours describes your approach to leadership, you can bet that your team’s motivation is going to wilt and shrivel before your very eyes.
I once knew a CEO who had the bulk of his executives peel off over a six-month period. The main impetus for their departures? The CEO’s dreaded Monday 8:30 a.m. staff meetings where he’d frequently engage in table-pounding tirades about the company’s lackluster results and throw out blame like he was tossing beads during Mardi Gras. You can’t get people to do better work by telling them their current work is the equivalent of a pile of dog excrement. Outside of professional sports locker rooms or military units, yelling at your team about their perceived shortcomings will not yield winning results.
Not providing the full picture
Nature abhors a vacuum and so do most employees. Being asked to do X without understanding the context or how it feeds into Y is both disorienting and disheartening. It’s difficult to give your best effort when you don’t know to what end it’s being applied. Bad leaders don’t think about building buy-in and fostering an atmosphere where information flows freely and each employee knows the goals his or her work contributes to. If you withhold the big picture from your team, expect them to withhold outstanding work from you.
Not acknowledging effort
Everyone has an ego and a good leader understands the need to stroke the ones on her team. Don’t wait until it’s crunch time and you need a herculean effort from them to dole out the praise — they’ll be skeptical of your sudden magnanimity and rightly so. If you want great work in the future, acknowledge the great work they’ve given you in the past. Poor leaders under-praise or wait until their team is already thoroughly deflated before handing out hasty compliments.
Failing to steer the ship
There’s a difference between providing hands-on direction and micro-managing, but that balance is difficult to strike and recognizing it comes from experience. Unfortunately, many new leaders embrace a laissez-faire approach to leading a team in hopes of not appearing too meddlesome and nit-picky. While their desire not to interfere comes from a good place, working for a boss who doesn’t step in to fix dysfunctional team dynamics, who hesitates to make tough calls and who isn’t willing to get down in the trenches with his or her team when needed is a guaranteed motivation killer.
Who can feel good about working for a leader who doesn’t want to lead